Mental illness has been called the "no-casserole" disease. When cancer or a heart attack strikes a family, homemade food and caring messages typically pour in. But when the illness is a brain disorder? Not so much.
Though one in four American adults will experience a mental illness each year, our society still struggles to talk productively about it. Stigma and misconceptions can discourage even the most caring friends from reaching out-and can keep sufferers from obtaining life-saving treatment. Consider that fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental disorders will receive mental health services in a given year. And when budgets must be cut, mental health treatment is often considered dispensable.
But failing to treat is costly. Businesses lose productivity. Communities struggle with the costs of incarcerating the mentally ill.
And the human cost? Staggering.
Twelve years ago, our family began learning what it means to live with a mental disorder-and the isolation that we would experience when our teenage daughter's worsening depression led to a suicide attempt.
Mental illness is a brain disorder-an organic condition that can be successfully treated and managed, much as diabetes can. It does not discriminate based on income, education level, social standing, race or nationality. And yet, the myths and stigmas persist.
Because all of society bears the burden of mental illness, directly or indirectly, we all stand to benefit when our communities promote awareness and effective strategies.
By sharing our stories and offering education on treatment options and coping skills, everyone touched by mental illness can help reduce the fear and confusion.
I'm happy to report that today our daughter is a healthy, outgoing 29-year-old, nearing graduation from Monroe Community College, with plans to enroll at SUNY College at Brockport. She's a speaker with the Rochester affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Our second daughter, 27, who also was diagnosed as a teen, is thriving as well: She's married and recently gave birth to a baby girl.
But had our family not discovered NAMI Rochester, I'm not sure either daughter's story would be playing out so positively. I'm not sure either daughter would be alive today.
NAMI provides support, education and advocacy for individuals and families living with mental illness. NAMI also educates the public and advocates for mental health policy, locally and nationally.
Thanks to resources we discovered through NAMI, our daughters have rebuilt their lives. They've developed public-speaking, leadership and advocacy skills. They've experienced the emotional, intellectual and financial rewards of helping our community solve an important problem. They've made friends.
NAMI has strengthened our family as well. The skills and insights we've gained include:
- Understanding new and effective treatments;
- Learning how to find the best providers;
- Learning how to recognize when we can handle symptoms and events ourselves and when we need to consult professionals; and
- Realizing that talking matter-of-factly about once-taboo symptoms-hearing voices, for example-can reduce the power of those symptoms.
NAMI Rochester also strengthens our community-by training mental health providers, teachers, parents and caregivers. NAMI has partnered with the Rochester Police Department to support development of the Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team and with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to educate and assist veterans' families.
To shine more light on mental illness and to highlight the work of NAMI Rochester, we're planning the first local NAMIWalks fundraiser on Saturday, May 4, at Village Gate. (For more information, visit NAMIWalks.org/Rochester, call 585-330-1968 or email NAMIrochesterwalk@gmail.com.)
If you or your family has been struggling alone, NAMI is here for you. Come in and we'll walk with you. Then come out and walk with us!
Jodie Terhune is program coordinator and former president of NAMI Rochester.4/25/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.