October 3 to 9, 2021, has been designated Mental Illness Awareness Week by the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

The week’s goal is to draw attention to and show concern and support for the mentally ill and their families.

Many of the mentally ill are concerned about their basic needs, especially appropriate housing, health insurance, medical services and low stress employment.

Mental illnesses are the most misunderstood of all illnesses and many people are afraid to seek help. People with serious mental illnesses suffer as much from the general public as they do from their disease.

Nearly 12 million American children suffer from mental illnesses but fewer than one in five receive treatment of any kind; in addition, mental illnesses affect one in five adults and cost society millions of dollars a year in health bills and lost productivity.

It is one of the most serious of our nation’s public health problems. There is no known cure. It afflicts the rich, poor, all races and every class, but it is treatable and most sufferers show improvement in varying degrees with proper medication, rehabilitation and support.

No one knows the pain of the mentally ill and their families until it becomes a reality in your own family. The illness is extremely difficult to understand and it may last a lifetime with many varying forms. Much of the illness and its effects are too personal to share with just anyone and because of the stigma attached to this illness families feel very alone.

Mentally ill people are often stereotyped in horror movies as “psychotic killers.” This is not a realistic depiction of persons suffering from mental illness. Violence among mentally ill people is not common; they are more frequently the victims of crimes than its perpetrators. This misconception is often reinforced by inaccurate journalism, literary sensationalism and the entertainment industry; actually, they are frightened and lonely people.

Mentally ill people and their family members are sensitive about misuse of words to label mental illnesses because this contributes to the stigma.

Terms like psychotic and insane are inappropriate except when used in a specific medical or legal contest. Sportswriters and other reporters often use the term “schizophrenic offense or government.” Schizophrenia is a brain disease and not multiple or “split” personality. These terms have very specific meanings and apply only to certain groups of ill people. Words like “crazy,” “nuts,” “wacko,” “lunatic,” “sicko” and “loony” are offensive.

Most other diseases do not have this stigma and it hurts the mentally ill and their families when they see or hear it.

Much research has been conducted to understand the workings of the brain and finding more medications, with less side effects , to combat the major mental illnesses. People with panic disorders and obsessive compulsive behavior are now being successfully treated with new medications.

The Alliance for Mental Illness is composed of family members who support each other, work to educate the public, work toward removing the stigma of mental illness and promote research for treatment, rehabilitation and cure of the diseases. There are 1800 self-help groups in the country totaling 250,000 members. Local groups are affiliated state and nationally.

Call 812-663-6370 for more information.

Linda Ricke is the past president and board member of the NAMI South Central Indiana Support Group and also served on the NAMI State Board in Indianapolis for six years.

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