Raising awareness about mental illness can start with you taking a moment from your busy schedule to sit and think about what diagnosis, treatment, and others' biases have meant for your family. The rest will follow from there. It's that simple.
by Wayne Kalyn
There's lots to do. The baseball playoffs are on TV, Halloween is coming, and your brown, defeated lawn needs an IV. It’s also Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) October 3-9 -- seven days of national reckoning about the breadth of mental disorders in this country, how they are treated (more needs to be done), and the stinging stigma still associated with any diagnosis.
One in four Americans experiences a mental disorder in any given year -- that includes Republicans and Democrats, Tea Partiers and the professional left, Wall Street and Main Street, rich and poor. One in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness -- from schizophrenia to major depression. This year’s awareness theme, championed by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), as it has done since Congress mandated MIAW in 1990, is “Changing attitudes, changing lives.”
That’s where you come in. It struck me that many of you diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) -- and all those who encourage, love, stand up for, and pray for you -- have lived out that theme since you could pronounce methylphenidate. You change attitudes and change lives every day.
A parent writes us about how months of jousting with the school’s special education team wins her ADD/ADHD daughter a classroom accommodation -- permission to take tests on a computer. To the delight of all, her daughter scores high Bs on her next two exams.
A middle-aged adult, fired from three jobs, discovers he has ADD/ADHD, hires a coach, hits the reset button, and believes, this time, he is succeeding at a career. Five months pass, and it looks like he may just be right.
A father tries one more stimulant, after the last two failed at managing ADD/ADHD symptoms, and sees his hyperactivity lift like an unwelcome fog. For the first time, he is able to sit down and talk with his teenage son for more than five minutes. He is so grateful for the focus that he buys tickets to an upcoming rock concert for the two of them.
And talk about changing lives. A mom decides to put her son, who has severe symptoms, on medication -- not without a lot of handwringing, soul-searching, and long evenings poring over the Physicians’ Desk Reference. Her son seems happier and more focused, but his grandfather responds to the news by sending a snippet from the Web: “Ritalin: It’s so much easier than parenting.” An exercise buddy insists that ADD/ADHD is a made-up disorder fabricated by the pharmaceutical industry. Really? The mom is tempted to give both a royal earful, but instead explains how medication works for those with ADD/ADHD symptoms and shares a source or two of her own. Remarkably, they begin to see the light.This week, after thinking for a moment about how you have changed people’s thinking about ADD/ADHD (including your own), pat yourself on the back and consider what you might do for others with serious disorders. NAMI's website has some ideas. And, if it helps at all, you can always TiVo the baseball.