From: Allison Pudlitzke
Mental health advocate
Project COMPASS/NAMI intern
Did you know that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month? The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 41,000 people die by suicide each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death for Americans of all ages. Why is this number so large? Well, the answer is mostly tied to the shame and stigma that comes along with having a mental illness in our society. There is still a prevalence rate of one in five Americans experiencing a mental health issue. Shame and stigma are powered by inaccurate portrayal of mental illness in the media, lack of appropriate health education, and a lack of open conversation regarding mental health. All of these factors pool together to create an environment where reaching out seems impossible and even unsafe for someone who is struggling with a mental illness. Reading this you may be asking yourself, “Well, what can I do to help?” Here are my suggestions: Talk openly about mental health and mental illness. Some people are so worried about saying the wrong thing that they avoid talking about it all together, but really this just adds to the problem. If we continue to have open conversations about mental illness, eventually this topic will become normalized, making it easier for people to open up. Educate yourself and others about the facts of mental illness and avoid believing and spreading myths. For example, it is a myth that most people with a mental health problem are violent. Show compassion toward others and always be kind. Remind yourself that everyone is fighting their own battle that you know nothing about. Avoid using labels like crazy, psychotic, and insane and use first-person language (he experiences schizophrenia versus he’s a schizophrenic). If we all work to incorporate these subtle changes into our daily lives, I believe that we can make a real difference in the way people approach mental illness, thus, saving lives.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. If you’d like more information on our local NAMI organization, please visit its website at winonanami.org or contact Helen Newell by phone at 507-459-2230 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.