Medical professionals want you to know that people suffering from a mental illness are still human. They aren't schizophrenic or manic. Rather, they're a person who has schizophrenia or manic depression.
"When you label something, it tends to have a negative connotation," said Dr. Alya Reeve, medical director of United Counseling Service in Bennington, Vt. " ... Where is the compassion and respect? We need to have more of a group awareness. We are collectively responsible. Having compassion doesn't mean believing everything they have to say. Language is how we convey respect for people with disorders of normal function."
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a month of observance that aims to build a greater understanding of mental health issues, the importance of mental health and the overall wellness of those around us.
This year's theme is "Life with Mental Illness." Mental Health America is encouraging people to share their own experiences with mental illness on social media: www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may
One in five adults, or 43 million, will be affected by a mental health condition in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That could be depression, anxiety, eating disorders or bipolar disorder. One in five youth age 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder, according to NAMI.
And among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. fighting a substance use disorder, 50 percent, or 10 million, had a co-occurring mental illness.
"Mental health could be a barrier to be a successful learner, so it's something we pay a lot of attention to here," Kristyn Harrington, Bennington's Mount Anthony Union High School clinician and clinical coordinator said. "We try and create an environment that is protective and has a lot of factors that support positive mental health so that they have opportunities to connect and engage in healthy activities."
All walks of life need to be well and practice doing so. Children and teenagers, while going through a number of changes in school, have the potential to develop a mental illness, if there isn't prevention. An unstable home environment or a friend passing away are common factors that affect youth.
The school has three licensed clinical social workers, a mental health clinician, a student's assistant counselor, and a part-time prevention and early prevention counselor.
"I think when people hear mental illness, they think of certain mental health conditions and people who are really sick with their illness and behaving in the illness," Harrington said. "I don't think that when people hear mental illness they're not thinking of their anxious mother or depressed sister. People think about stuff that looks stereotypically 'crazy.' The more we can highlight that there is a broad range of mental health conditions that all fall under the umbrella, it's no different from strep throat or diabetes and it's treatable."
Language and conversation play into the stigma of mental illness. A heroin epidemic is attached to a more serious feeling than the term opiate addiction does. Something can be done to address opiate addiction, but the fear of being infected is the message that a heroin epidemic gives off.
"Your choice of words causes a paralysis of the response," Reeve said. "Stigma is a big problem because people don't talk and that affects access to treatment. In this culture, it's believed that medication will make everything better. It will not make you fully well. It takes work. We all need mental health. We need to be productive and be contributing members of society."
To make the parallel, someone who has a broken foot will alter their daily routine to compensate for the pain. They might even get cranky about it because a habit is broken, but a new one is made when functionality is adjusted. Reeve says when we are less well, we feel less well, and it affects the entire body.
NAMI Berkshire County will hold its 11th Annual Minds Matter Walk for Mental Health Awareness at Persip Park on Thursday, May 19, at Pittsfield's Third Thursday. NAMI Berkshire County Executive Director Brenda Carpenter and Board Chair Deborah Sadowy-Dargie will give opening remarks at 5:15 p.m., and the Walk will begin at 5:30 p.m. All funds that participants in the one-mile walk raise will supporting Berkshire County residents affected by mental illness. To register, visit http://namibc.org.