NAMI sponsors week on mental health awareness

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
A very harmful illness that affects approximately 18 million people in the United States alone is one of the leading causes of disability in the nation and across the world.
It isn't cancer. It isn't AIDS. It isn't emphysema or hypertension. It is mental illness.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week in the United States and across the nation, and mental health facilities and community organizations such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) will be sponsoring activities to help increase awareness of mental illness.
Locally, the Johnson City chapter of NAMI is helping to increase education on mental illness through a book titled "Edward the 'Crazy Man'" according to the group's vice president, Shelby Ward. "The NAMI of Johnson City is providing this book ("Edward the 'Crazy Man'") for every elementary school in Washington County," she said. "The Republican Women of Carter County are donating one for every elementary school in Carter County. We are also donating one to the library."
An increased awareness about different types of mental illness is essential, according to Ward. "It is just a chemical imbalance in the brain and it's just like any other illness that you would treat if you had it," Ward said. "There should be no shame in it and people are stigmatized by it. That stigma is one thing that I would like to remove."
Ward works with several individuals who have either battled mental illness themselves or have friends or family members who are afflicted. Some of the individuals Ward has spoken with while working with NAMI have become disabled because of the affects of mental illness or side-effects from the medication used to treat it. "You cannot look at people and tell. They do have a very serious illness that prevents them from being able to work. It's a heartbreaker," she said. "Mental illness is cruel to anyone that it affects."
Mental Illness Awareness Week, sponsored by the national branch of NAMI, will focus this year not only on facts surrounding mental illnesses but also on various treatment available to the public.
Suicide prevention will be the focus on Monday. In the United States last year, 107 out of every one million residents committed suicide.
Tuesday will focus on eliminating disparities in mental health care by removing access barriers and ensuring the availability of service regardless of age, race, ethnicity, language or place of residence, according to information from NAMI.
Consumer and family centered care will be Wednesday's topic. Individuals who receive treatment for mental illness will be encouraged to become more informed of treatment options available as well as assistance in locating housing and employment.
Thursday will center on bipolar disorder, a disease which affects 2.3 million adult Americans, or nearly 1.2 percent of the population, and which runs in families, according to information from NAMI. "Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally lifelong condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children," according to information from NAMI on the disease. "It generally requires lifelong treatment, and recovery between episodes is often poor. Generally, those who suffer from bipolar disorder have symptoms of both mania and depression, sometimes at the same time."
On Friday, the agenda will involve raising community support to ensure that those who suffer from mental illness are getting the best possible treatment which is "evidence-based". On Saturday, the program will involve efforts to guarantee the public is informed about what mental illness is and is not.
The Johnson City chapter of NAMI meets the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Harrison Christian Church, located at 2517 Browns Mill Road in Johnson City. For more information, call (423) 926-6788.