Originally posted on NAMI Blog
They say that "what we don't know can't hurt us." I disagree.
While mental health conditions were part of my family's story, it took me finding NAMI to realize this. I still remember the first time someone at NAMI asked me if I had a family member with mental illness. I had just started working at NAMI. I responded that I did not have a family member but had a close friend living with severe depression. Months later, when someone else asked me the same question, my answer was quite different: yes, I have a loved one living with mental illness. You see, up until then I had not realized I was not only a friend but also a family member of someone with mental illness.
After learning more about the signs and symptoms of different conditions and hearing stories from people with mental illness and family members I started to notice that I had seeing and experienced some of the things I was hearing about. I started to recognize my uncle's behavior in some of the NAMI materials I was reading. Suddenly I remembered that my uncle had something… something we did not talk much about. Up to this point, I had never fully realized that one of my uncles has a mental illness even though, at some point in my childhood, I had heard words such as schizophrenia mentioned in hushed tones. This started a process of discovery and healing.
Finding out about mental health, what it is, what it means and what to do about it should not be left to luck or to going through years of struggle. Unfortunately, lack of information and understanding about mental health conditions perpetuate the stigma attached to these illnesses and prevent communities across the country from talking about them and helping people understand that it is okay to have a mental illness.
This is particularly the case in multicultural communities where research shows that the levels of stigma associated to mental health conditions are much higher. In recognition of this fact, July was declared as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in order to improve access to mental health care through increased awareness of mental health conditions among people from diverse backgrounds .
We have a month-long opportunity to spread the word and help communities across the country understand that mental health conditions are real and treatable. For those of us who are members of diverse communities, we have an opportunity to help our communities start a much needed conversation and dialogue around mental health.
If you are not a person of color or a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individual (LGBT) you may think you can stop reading this now since this does not apply to you. Though, think about it for a minute. Think about your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, people at your place of worship, the gym, school, etc. You can make a difference in their lives. I certainly wish someone would have shared with me about mental illness long before I found NAMI. This could have helped me and my family.
So, what can you do to help?
There are many opportunities to get involved. Below are 6 ideas to help you get started:
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MaJose Carrasco is Director of the NAMI Multicultural Action Center.