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Raising awareness for mental health

In 1990, Congress established Mental Illness Awareness Week in recognition of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' efforts to raise mental illness awareness across the United States and to remove barriers for people seeking mental health care.

In 1979, NAMI was formed in Madison, Wis. One of the founding members of NAMI is Dorothy Holmes, a Red Wing native. The 90-year-old woman has spent more than 40 years raising awareness at the local and national levels regarding the impact of mental illness, and she has worked tirelessly to erase the stigma often associated with it.

Although tremendous strides have been made in creating awareness of mental illness, stigma continues to be a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it. Research indicates that early identification, intervention and treatment results in improved outcomes.

The facts of mental health are simple. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. They can affect people of any age, race, religion or income, and are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or lack of intelligence.

Mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. Even though mental health disorders are widespread in the population, approximately 6 percent of people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. About one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. It is estimated that one in five families in America are affected by mental illness.

According to NAMI, the annual economic, indirect cost of mental illness is estimated to be $79 billion for the United States. Most of the amount, approximately $63 billion, reflects the loss of productivity as a result of illness.

There are many causes of mental illness, including genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain or biological, environmental, social and cultural factors.

Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms. Certain lifestyle choices can contribute to overall health and wellness, in addition to supporting recovery.

Those experiencing a type of mental illness should ensure they get adequate sleep, have routine medical checkups, follow a proper diet, get regular exercise and maintain healthy relationships.

Additionally, treatment does work and individuals can lead fulfilling lives. Effective approaches can vary from person to person but may be medication treatment, psychosocial treatment, interpersonal therapy, rehabilitative skills training, case management services or support groups.

When mental health care is not available, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering. They may result in unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, crisis in families, more expensive costs for hospital emergency rooms and hospitalizations.

What you can do

Mental Illness Awareness Week is a reminder to be supportive if you know someone with mental illness. Here are some ways you can help:

• Encourage the person to seek help

• Learn facts about mental illness

• Help break the stigma and silence that often surrounds the topic

• Don't use labels; if you hear someone using inappropriate labels, explain why those are harmful

• Support efforts to promote mental illness awareness and understanding