A virus across America

There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the one in five Americans affected by mental health conditions. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions.

Stigma is a sign or sense of disgrace that sets someone apart from others. Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation and blame that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to moving forward in one’s recovery journey.

Stigma plays a role when a person with mental illness is seeking treatment, encountering the criminal justice system, trying to get a job – the list goes on. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100 percent curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure.

Facts:

• One in 25 (10 million) adults in the United States lives with a serious mental illness.

• Sixty million people in the United States face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness.

• Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24, but early intervention programs can help.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been working hard to raise awareness about mental illness. This year, NAMI is launching a new campaign called “CureStigma” where we ask people to join their voices with ours to #CureStigma.

The campaign, which builds on the successful #StigmaFree initiative, positions stigma as a social virus spreading across America, and features a nationwide public service announcement starring NAMI Celebrity Ambassadors; a website where visitors can take a quiz to see if they have stigmatizing beliefs; as well as sharable graphics and an emoji pack for phones.

During Mental Health Month, our goal was to inspire people to build better lives for millions of people with mental illness.

NAMI Alaska provides education, advocacy, support and awareness so that those affected by mental illness can build better lives.

For instance, last month NAMI Alaska passed a resolution opposing House Bill 312, an act that relates to arrest without a warrant for assault in the fourth degree at a health care facility and strips away constitutionally protected rights of due process.

HB 312 negatively impacts people we serve when they need medical treatment during periods of severe mental illness. NAMI Alaska submitted language that would significantly reduce the harmful and detrimental damage caused by the implementation of House Bill 312. Unfortunately, the stigma against people with mental health conditions and widespread misunderstanding about mental illness prevailed.   

HB 312 is at the governor’s office and awaits the governor’s signature.

We at NAMI Alaska appreciate the many staff and volunteers in our affiliates in Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Barrow for their dedication toward bringing awareness to challenges and fighting the stigma that surrounds mental health. Their work includes offering classes and support groups to help families and their loved ones who are afflicted by mental illness. More specific information can be found at namialaska.org.

Keep in mind that stigma is curable. With time, as mental health becomes a more normalized topic, society’s perception will start to shift and Alaska officials will more appropriately address our broken mental health system of care.

Keep in mind that your voice can spread the cure. Call or write Gov. Bill Walker and let him know that HB 312 harms people when they lose their right to obtain treatment in a medical facility without the fear of arrest without a warrant.

For additional information about Mental Health Month, to take the Cure Stigma quiz and to access CureStigma resources, please visit curestigma.org.

Richard Fagnant • President NAMI Alaska

Shirley J. Holloway, Ph.D. • Vice President, NAMI Alaska, Board Member, NAMI National