Should We Celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) celebrates Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) during the first week in October.  In 1990, the U.S. Congress established MIAW in recognition of NAMI’s  efforts to raise mental illness awareness.

MIAW has become a NAMI tradition. According to NAMI, the week “presents an opportunity to all NAMI state organizations and affiliates across the country to work together in communities to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education and advocacy.”

The Good

Honoring the challenges encountered by those with mental illness and celebrating the achievements of loved ones with mental illness is certainly cause to celebrate.  The opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness promotes early intervention and exposes discrimination.  Other organizations also celebrate this week to promote their own interests.  Thursday, October 7, 2010 is designated as Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day.  The National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding falls this year on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010.  These organizations believe  promoting Mental Illness Awareness Week is an opportunity to change attitudes and to raise money to promote further awareness.

The Bad

How could raising awareness of mental health and celebrating achievements be negative in any way?  Several strong stances have been taken against celebrating this week.  In an article well worth reading in full, DJ Jaffe suggests that hosting an event to reduce the stigma of mental illness is the wrong way to  look at this.   He states there is no stigma to mental illness, only discrimination.  He suggests that attempting to reduce stigma is detrimental because it diverts attention away from a significant issue; the most seriously mentally ill.

The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, Inc. takes issue with NAMI’s emphasis on psychiatric medication and main stream psychiatry.  They suggest that NAMI’s approach to psychiatric medication used on adults and children may do more harm than good.

What Do You Think?

Raising awareness of mental illness is important to me.  I also believe that mental illness should not be considered a stigma, anymore than race or religion is.  As a parent, I welcome any research into using psychiatry to lower medication use, but resent being made to feel that I am giving a child medication to make my life easier.

Where do you stand on Mental Illness Awareness Week?

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