By Beth Clay
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, our country has moved from shock and grief to demanding answers and action. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only tragic event experienced by our nation in the past year. The NAMI community extends our sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones to suicide and to violent acts. America’s hearts are broken.
The tragedy has galvanized our country to provide real solutions to our mental health crisis, as well as with gun control. We are encouraged by President Obama’s sweeping agenda to improve mental health care. The test is whether Congress, state legislatures and the country as a whole are serious enough to face up to the challenge. It’s not a new challenge. For more than 30 years, NAMI has been fighting for improvements to our broken mental health system and better access to care.
NAMI also works tirelessly to educate the public about mental illness. When mental illness is highlighted as a cause or factor in these terrible tragedies, NAMI works to infuse the resulting conversations with accurate information about the nature of mental illness. We must not allow misinformation to further stigmatize those who live with, know, love, or support someone with mental illness. Stigma, defined as the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable, makes it harder for people and families to reach out for help, support and treatment. That, too, is tragic.
When violent tragedies occur, and an individual living with a mental illness has been implicated, arrested or charged, NAMI seeks to provide context and balance. Only a tiny fraction of people with mental illness ever become violent. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General determined more than a decade ago that “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.” Statistically, people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
Mental illnesses are brain disorders – medical illnesses, like any other. One in four adults - close to 60 million Americans-experiences a mental health disorder in a given year, and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. Tragically, less than one-third of adults and one-half of children will receive the necessary mental health intervention to treat their disorders. With access to appropriate medical care, treatment works. With hope and the right tools and supports, mental health recovery is possible. Hope. Help. Recovery. Those are NAMI’s promises.
These tragic losses have left our community searching for answers and people wondering what they can do to help. For many of us, our grief is a call to action. Join us in moving from anger and sadness to action and advocacy and help meet the needs of our neighbors, co-workers and family members who live with mental illness. Let NAMI Fox Valley help you find a way:
1. Educate yourself about mental illness. Visit our website to learn about our education programs. Our Family-to-Familyprogram, described as “life changing” by many participants, is a course that will give you the tools to work effectively with your family member living with mental illness. Similarly, for parents, teachers, or caregivers of school-age children with mental illness, our education course, MICA (Mental Illness in Children and Adolescents) provides real tools around advocacy, treatment, and school supports. We also train law enforcement, first responders and other professionals how to work safely and compassionately with people experiencing mental health crisis through our Crisis Intervention Team and Crisis Intervention Partner training programs. For the general public, we offer Mental Health 101, NAMI 101, and Mental Health First Aid, to give any concerned citizen the tools they need to get someone in crisis to the right services. In addition, NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program is a powerful anti-stigma tool that changes hearts, minds, and attitudes about mental illness.
2. Join community efforts to improve access to services, build awareness of mental illness, and break down stigma. In 2012, the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection was established to connect community stakeholders and resources to improve the mental health of our community. Visit their website to join as a member and/or join one of their task forces that work to create and connect a mental health system of care for the Fox Valley.
3. Be a stigma buster. Help us fight inaccurate and hurtful representations of mental illness. Speak out against offensive language, stereotypes, images, advertising or commercial products (e.g. T-shirts) found in local stores. Visit NAMI’s StigmaBuster page for more information on how to take action.
4. Advocate for better treatment and access to services for people with mental illness. Contact your lawmakers and let them know that federal, state and local support is needed. VisitNAMI’s Advocacy Action Center for legislative alerts and updates and information on how you can make your voice heard.
Do you need more information about NAMI Fox Valley programming or mental health services in our area? Do you know how to access crisis services for yourself or someone you care about? Visit our website for more information, call 211 (our community’s 24 hour information and referral resource), or call NAMI Fox Valley, 954-1550, to speak with a staff member, or a Peer/Family Advocate. You are not alone.