Stigma of mental illness must change

How many of us have witnessed the pain parents experience when the health of a child is compromised?

The child diagnosed with any of the many forms of cancer, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or any of the multiple disabilities or physical malfunctions that can randomly occur at any stage of life. Families and entire communities pull together and offer whatever support they can — meals, comfort, fund-raising and prayer chains, all very honorable worthy endeavors.

What, however, is the reaction when a promising young student suddenly exhibits strange, sometimes bizarre behavior, leaving friends and family wondering, and at a loss for answers, and needed help and support?

The fact, dear reader, is that many brain disorders manifest themselves most often in late adolescence, leaving confused promising young adults, friends and parents in their wake, either in denial that “something” is wrong, or floundering in a sea of bewilderment, ignorance, and misinformation. People who, if faced with a physical disability, could get help and support at every turn, are instead shunned and stigmatized, because of a malfunction of the brain, and this must change!

In 1979, several mothers banded together to combat the lack of awareness of mental disorders, organizing in an effort to educate and offer hope to the many affected families. Their fledgling group has now grown ,with affiliates in over 1,100 communities nationwide, comprised of dedicated members and volunteers ,educating and advocating for the mentally ill.

This week is designated as mental illness awareness week. Albany is blessed with a growing membership in N.A.M.I. (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and welcomes both families and consumers (our preferred name for those affected) to our group. We meet at Phoebe Northwest on the fourth Tuesday of each month. No one professes to have all the answers — who possibly can? — but we do all we can to educate, empathize, and offer understanding and hope to all who seek it.

Let’s work together and erase the stigma!

Marty Heldenberg