National Mental Health Awareness Week Oct. 5-11

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

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week in recognition of efforts by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to raise awareness and end the stigma and secrecy surrounding mental illness.

Since 1990, Mental Illness Awareness Week has become a NAMI tradition. It presents an opportunity for state organizations and affiliates across the country to work together in communities to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education and advocacy.

This year, NAMI is encouraging us to tell our personal stories about our experiences with mental illness or our relationships with people we know who are mentally ill. Here are my stories:

I have a friend Mark, who is a social worker. We have supported each other through relationship break-ups, fixed each other up for dates and served as escorts to each other's weddings and family events when necessary.

At one event, I met Mark's sister, who thanked me for my friendship to her brother and mentioned he was schizophrenic and had been on anti-psychotic medication for more than 30 years. She thought I knew. Mark and I had confided our secrets in each other, but he never told me something that important. I knew he was scrupulous about his health. I also knew he never drank alcohol, because he said it would conflict with treatment of a chronic illness.

A friend's daughter, Brenda, is in her early thirties. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early twenties, after experiencing symptoms for more than ten years. She refuses to participate in a recommended treatment program, does not regularly take her medication and she binge drinks on occasion. Her family members have been working to facilitate treatment and management of her illness, but it is difficult without her cooperation. She also keeps her illness a secret.

To me, the important thing is that Mark has the education and resources to treat his illness, and he was fortunate that it was diagnosed early. He has a normal life and a successful career. Brenda has trouble keeping a job, due to her erratic behavior. Both Mark and Brenda are fearful of the stigma of mental illness and keep it secret, even from close friends.

No one should have to confront mental illness alone, go without treatment or hide in secrecy. It's important that we reach out for help if we need it, or reach out to those in need of help. For information, go to NAMI at www.nami.org or call their hotline at 1-800-950-6264.

Mental Illness Awareness Week coincides with the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (Oct. 7) and National Depression Screening Day (Oct. 9.)

To find out how some mind-body modalities are being used to address mental and emotional health issues in the military, read Guided Imagery Reaches the National Guard. To browse our programs on mental health, go to the Mental and Emotional Health section on our Online Store.

As always, we welcome your questions and comments. Tell us your stories.