2016miaw-fb-shareimageJust in case you weren’t aware, this is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

And just in case you are unfamiliar with me, I’m all about mental illness awareness. I have this “crazy” idea that the more open we are about our mental health and illnesses, the more other people will be helped. What other people?

Well, for one, other people who may have similar issues but don’t know what to call them or how to explain them yet. Obsessive compulsive disorder is one of those struggles that goes undiagnosed for too long. Why? Because people pinhole it, use “OCD” incorrectly, don’t have the knowledge of what it actually encompasses, or are otherwise misinformed or ashamed to own up to the symptoms.

The “other” other people that can be helped are those who do not have mental illness. Maybe they have a friend or relative with mental health problems and want to understand what’s going on “in there” a little bit more. Maybe they aren’t aware of anyone with depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, or whatever other mental illness and are curious and want to increase their awareness, knowledge, and understanding. I welcome all of these people to learn more about mental illness.

But why? Why is it so important to learn about mental health?

To those going through mental health problems, knowledge is vital. Knowing your illness (and about your illness) is so important if you want to conquer it (or at the very least make it through the best you can). Just like physical illnesses, they are varying methods to fight mental illnesses. You wouldn’t go through chemotherapy to fix a broken leg, right? Similarly, the treatment plan for bipolar or schizophrenia are different from obsessive compulsive disorder. This is also why finding the appropriate, experienced care is so essential. If you go down the wrong treatment path, it is easy to get the wrong results and end up frustrated and worse than before.

And if you don’t go down any treatment path? Well, that’s something I don’t recommend. Getting help can be the hardest step but also is the most important. Find the appropriate care. For OCD, check out the International OCF Foundation website. It is painful to admit, but great resources and doctors for OCD are not available everywhere, in every city and every state. But the upside is that there are great resources available.

And this is why mental health awareness is so important. As people step up, make their needs known, and look for help, it is my hope that more resources will become available. Maybe more psychologists will learn methods to treat OCD and other disorders. Maybe insurance companies will make mental health care more affordable and available to their clients. Maybe the government and churches will realize that instead of trying to put bandages on individual symptoms or consequences, they need to start trying to heal the source of problems.

And why is learning about mental health so important for those who aren’t going through it?

Sympathy. Compassion. Understanding. Love.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that it’s so easy to judge people when you don’t know them or only know a little bit about them. Once you talk with an individual, share your stories, and start to know each other as a real, living, breathing people, suddenly things become clearer. Suddenly you start to understand the things that they do. Their actions and feelings begin to make a little more sense. And as you listen and serve them, you start to love them. You care about what happens to them. Your attitude shifts from one of judgment and derision to one of acceptance and understanding. You want positive change for them. You want them to find peace and joy.

And that’s really what mental illness awareness is all about. It’s about erasing stigmas. It’s about not seeing people as their illness but as individuals. Individuals who mean something and love and hurt and want to be happy as much as you do.

And I think that everyone deserves to be treated that way, don’t you?

For more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week, check out NAMI.