Contributor Marda Bartel – May is Mental Health Awareness Month

The month of May is many things.  For the purpose of this article, however, I will focus on one–May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

What does this actually mean?  It means that consumer organizations such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and many other groups are doing what they can to encourage the general public to think more positively about those of us who happen to have mental illness.  There is no doubt that mental illness can have a profound effect both on the persons who have it and on their families, friends, and even sometimes co-workers, educators and others who work closely with them.  But popular culture still promotes misconceptions and stereotypes that stigmatize those of us who live with mental illness.

One such stereotype is “All mentally ill people (particularly those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) are violent.  Research clearly shows this to be otherwise but it makes for good movie and TV drama so these ideas continue to be promulgated.

Another misconception that people commonly have is that all people who have psychiatric or psychological disorders will act the same way.  An example would be that all people who have bipolar disorder experience hallucinations or delusions of grandeur.  Bipolar disorder has many faces–there are at least five different types of it diagnosed and they all have their own criteria.

We all know how frustrating and limiting it can be when people have stereotypes about blindness.  It’s the same way with mental illness.  People are afraid of what they don’t understand.  This is why things like Mental Health Awareness Month and White Cane Safety Day can be important.

So this May, I encourage you to look for items in the news related to mental health, think about it, and feel free to respond in the readers forum.

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