Last Tuesday, Oct. 5, a film and testimonial program was presented by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The film, called “In Our Own Voices,” was shown as part of a nationwide campaign to spread awareness about mental illness.The depth of the seminar, which covered everything from the dark days of early symptoms and episodes to the later stages of recovery and coping mechanisms, was a pleasant surprise. The film and the speakers emphasized the truth of these diseases – that they are indeed illnesses, genetically passed on, treatable, and present in 5.4% of the U.S. adult population.
According to NAMI, mental illness and its treatment can be broken into stages. First, there are the “Dark Days,” when nothing makes sense, and everything seems impossible and irrevocably against the afflicted. Then there are the days of “Acceptance,” when one accepts the problem and comes to terms with having a mental illness.
This is followed by “Treatment,” which is a long and often varied process, including both counseling and medication. Finally, there are “Coping Mechanisms” to keep one’s life in check and prevents one from sinking back into depression and despair.
The speakers stressed that the most important aspect in the recovery of the mentally ill, beyond medication and counseling, is the presence of a personal support system of some kind. This support can come from any number of places, family, or friends. Wherever it originates, it is an integral part of the coping and recovery processes. Without it, many of the mentally ill would never reach out and get the help they need.
One thing about mental illness that NAMI emphasized again and again in the presentation is the fact that these illnesses – ADD, OCD, severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia – are not the plagues of “freaks,” or people that are “different.”
In fact, one of NAMI’s core purposes is to educate Americans and to dispel the stigma of these illnesses. Because, as “In Our Own Voices” makes clear, that’s what they are: diseases. Anyone can be affected by them, and those that do are no better or worse than anyone else.
In conclusion, the speakers noted that it is important for people to realize that help is available. “People can be successful,” says Jackie, one of the speakers. “There are people that are willing to help you get there.”
One such source is the Fox Valley branch of NAMI, located right here in Appleton, at 516 W. 6th St. Open to everyone, it offers a range of programs, including family support groups and teen groups. Their brochure sports the title, “You are not alone,” and that is the message that they preach and encourage; a message that is as important as their campaign to raise mental illness awareness.