Op-Ed: Education Key to Ending Stigma About Mental Illness
The writer is Sally T. Osmer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Mercer.
Oct. 7-13 is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), an opportunity to learn about serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.
Mental illness is a medical illness — it does not discriminate. One in four adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year. One in 17 adults lives with a serious mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) seeks to improve the lives of individuals and families who are affected by mental illness by providing education, advocacy and mutual support.
I became involved with NAMI Mercer over 12 years ago when my family and I needed the support and education that NAMI provides as we struggled to cope with mental illness. Now as I serve as executive director of NAMI Mercer, I hear the stories of stigma that prevent people from seeking help as well as the heroic stories of recovery and hope as people put their lives back together.
Our county is concerned about mental health. The Mercer County Community Health Assessment Report (released July 2012) cites mental health as a “dominant health concern for Mercer County residents…who reported rising rates of depression and other mental health issues among people in the region and closely connected to substance abuse, the economic downturn and the region’s achievement culture.”
The Greater Mercer Public Health Partnership, under Greater Mercer County United Way’s leadership, is currently developing a Community Health Plan for the county. Mental health and substance abuse prevention, education and recovery were identified as the #1 priority for the health plan. The full plan will be released on Dec. 11 in a county-wide gathering.
NAMI Mercer is encouraged that the community is focusing on the issue of mental health. We invite all Mercer County residents to talk with friends and neighbors about mental illness and recovery during the week of Oct. 7-13. It is an opportunity to learn facts and end myths to help break the stigma—and silence— that too often surrounds the topic.
Treatment works, but only if a person can get it. Early identification of symptoms and treatment results in better outcomes. Please join the conversation to reduce stigma and promote better mental health in our community.
By changing attitudes about mental illness, we can change lives.
For more information, visit www.namimercer.org to learn more about mental illness as well as education, support and advocacy programs to help individuals and families affected by mental illness.
Please visit http://www.uwgmc.org for more information on the Community Health Assessment and Plan.
- Sally T. Osmer, LCSW, Executive Director, NAMI Mercer