This Saturday the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Wheeling, held its 3rd annual “NAMI Walk” to raise awareness about mental health stigma.
Many folks from the Ohio Valley came out to show their support for spreading mental health awareness. Countless people walked laps around the Wheeling Park lake to symbolize the journey of persons with mental illness and stand in solidarity with them.
For decades, NAMI Greater Wheeling has been working to raise awareness by providing resources relating to the mental health issues facing the Ohio Valley and the state of West Virginia.
The diligence and passion shown by the folks at NAMI Greater Wheeling has led to many successful local events bringing hundreds of people out to talk about mental health.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, “West Virginia ranked 1st highest in the nation for the prevalence of poor physical health, poor mental health, and activity limitations due to poor physical or mental health.”
This statistic makes the work of NAMI Greater Wheeling even more critical to the health and well-being of the Ohio Valley.
The presence of NAMI has become more pronounced in the last few years as a result of the recognition of a growing need for mental health resources and awareness.
Jesse Krall, Director of Operations at the NAMI Marian House Drop-in Center in Wheeling, a gathering space for persons with mental illness, shares his belief as to why awareness works:
“There is still so much stigma that has to be eliminated. The NAMI Walk helps get the word out and spread awareness for the cause. Watching people socialize and laugh together regardless of their mental health diagnosis is what is most heartwarming. We need more spaces for folks to gather and share their stories. That is what I believe will help us break down the stigma in the end.”
Mr. Krall is right – what we need is a healthy dialogue surrounding the experiences of persons with mental illness and more spaces where people can share their mental health struggles.
People with depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders can receive more effective treatments, experience safer recoveries, and maintain a higher quality of living than ever before – so why does the stigma persist?
One of the reasons cited by researchers is an increased level of social distance:
“Positive personal contact with a person with mental illness was significantly associated with lower levels of endorsing stigmatizing beliefs and actions. Given these consistent findings, anti-stigma interventions should focus on increasing positive personal contact with people living with mental illness” (Thornicroft et al. 2008)
With this information, the best thing we can do is to begin having the tough conversations about our mental health. We need to discuss feelings like anxiety, fear, and loss; we need to “normalize” or typify these experiences by acknowledging them as valid, treatable, and human.
As human beings, we are immensely complex. We depend on social interaction and intimate personal relationships to enhance our mindfulness and improve our ideas of our own self worth. But, unless we are able to understand and be understood by one another, without fear of shame, we will make little progress.
Let’s continue the dialogue set forth by the folks at NAMI Greater Wheeling about the importance of stomping out the stigma. Supporting events like the “NAMI Walk” or “This is My Brave” will help us all build more compassionate communities where mental health stigma is no longer part of the struggle to live well.