Approximately 1 in 5 adults – or 43.9 million people – experience mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions and disorders that impact a person’s mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.
To that end, the local fight to support and de-stigmatize mental illness starts with a conversation.
On Episode #157 of Inside the FLX – Brigitt Schaffner, president of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) discussed stigma, and how to approach discussions around mental health.
NAMI works to support caregivers of those who live with mental illness. However, advocacy and fostering discussion about mental health is a major driver of their mission. Schaffner says the discussion can help people understand the importance of the issue – and how devastating it can be if these types of issues are not discussed openly.
“There’s a huge difference between having a bad day, a bad week; and clinical depression,” she explained. “So, it’s important to understand the tit’s a very, very serious illness – certainly depression and anxiety – but there’s also a large number of folks who deal with that on a daily basis,” she explained.
That’s often easier said than done, though, according to Schaffner. “It’s actually a difficult question to answer,” she explained, regarding some of the basic questions about mental illness. “They’re very complex and we’re just now starting to get a much larger understanding of the fact that oftentimes people might have concurring mental illnesses, and especially along with co-concurring substance use disorders – it tends to be extremely complex.”
NAMI works to educate family members, caregivers, and others who may encounter those with mental illness. However, they’re also working to encourage more understanding about it – even for those who may not encounter someone with such an illness.
“There isn’t a quick lab test that can be drawn up, so the really difficult part of mental illness is just understanding what is really going on with the person – and that unfortunately tends to come to light right when the person is becoming their own individual.’
Schaffner noted that while great strides have been made in educating young people and adults about the struggles of mental illness, and how to identify it – a great deal of challenge exists because of the timeframe in which symptoms begin presenting.
For example, anxiety or depression could begin presenting while a teen is going through their adolescent years – but because of the other changes going on in their lives – the illness may not reach a point of ‘note’ to those around them until they have already gone to college. “Suddenly folks find themselves in a situation that they feel extremely confused about,” Schaffner added.
“We have to feel really positive about the progress that’s been made, and how far we can go in the coming years,” continued. “In the coming years, as education continues to improve, and we work to be better as a community when addressing mental illness – positive steps can be made.”