Mental Health Awareness Week Urges Us to be Stigma Free

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."—Bill Clinton

This year, for Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 4-10, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has chosen the theme StigmaFree.

Each year, during the first week of October, NAMI and its participants across the country bring awareness, fight stigma, provide support for those with mental illness, educate the public and advocate for equal care. By taking the StigmaFree pledge, we are asked to:

  • Learn about mental health—educate ourselves and others

  • See the person not the illness—strive to listen, understand, tell our own story

  • Take action—spread the word, raise awareness, make a difference

Because we are urged to tell our stories, I will tell you one of mine. My dear friend, Judy, has a daughter, Lisa, who recently started college. Lisa is sweet, friendly, extremely intelligent and passionate about the welfare of animals and the environment. She is a volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter.

Due to her 'ick factor' (she gets queasy from the sight of blood) Lisa chose not to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and instead has chosen political science. She hopes to make administrative changes that will positively impact all living things—a lofty goal this young woman is capable of achieving. We need people like Lisa in administrative positions.

Judy is concerned that Lisa might have to drop out of college, due to problems with anxiety and panic attacks, which she never experienced prior to starting college. She said mental health services are available at Lisa's college, but she is reluctant to ask for help because she fears being labeled as crazy. Fortunately, our mutual friend Tom is a social worker and happy to help her figure out a plan for Lisa to get the help she needs.

Anxiety has surpassed depression as the most prevalent mental health issue among college students, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI on Campus) and fear of stigma is the number one reason why students don't seek help from campus mental health services.

For more information about anxiety and college students, read the Health Journeys blog post Anxiety Riding High among College Students.

Anxiety helps us get out of harm's way, and it warns us when we need to take action, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), but if you experience excessive, persistent, unrealistic worry that interferes with daily activities, you might have an anxiety disorder.

Go to to find a therapist or support group, or learn more about the many forms of anxiety, including phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and panic attacks.

To keep up with the latest news about mental health reform, and learn about legislation introduced to the Senate in August, read Two Major Mental Health Bills Introduced in U.S. Senate, by Ron Honberg.

In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, tell us your stories. As always, we love hearing from you.

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