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Bipolar Bites

Bipolar blogger Natasha Tracy offers exclusive insight into the world of bipolar disorder.

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Awareness for All Severities of Mental Illnesses

Mental Illness Awareness WeekHappy mental illness awareness week!

From Oct. 6-12, in both Canada and the U.S., it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). Not surprisingly, I like this week. This week gives everyone the excuse to do a little something to help people with a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a list of things you can do including:

  • Participate in a NAMI Walk
  • Watch a movie about mental illness like Silver Linings Playbook or The Soloist
  • Read a book like Crazy, by Pete Earley or The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks
  • Or have a conversation about mental illness with a family member or a friend

These are all pretty good, but in doing any of these things, I think it’s important to remember that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes it doesn’t have a movie-type ending.

What are the Faces of Mental Illness?

One of the things that the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) does for MIAW is run a campaign known as The Faces of Mental Illness. These faces are of people with mental illnesses who have made big achievements. For example, people who are in recovery from bipolar disorder who have become advocates or speakers. Their message is “Recovery is Possible.”

And recovery is possible. I work at achieving it every day, and if I didn’t think it were possible, then I suppose I would give up. So yes, people with mental illness can recover.

Mental Illness Recovery Doesn’t Always Happen

The thing is, not all people with mental illness experience recovery. Some people are floridly sick for long periods of time. Some people are in all the treatment in the world but aren’t getting better. Some people aren’t receiving treatment and so aren’t getting better. Recovery may be possible but it sure isn’t a given, particularly in a timely manner.

Awareness of Mental Illness Means Awareness of the Not-So-Nice Stories

And so, while it is commendable that the CAMIMH offer hope to people with a mental illness and a positive image of mental illness to the population at large, they leave out a large part of the population who also deserve awareness. They leave out all the people who can’t accomplish extraordinary or even ordinary things because they are just too sick. These people are the faces of mental illness too.

So on this MIAW I encourage you to remember all that we can accomplish—and that is huge things—but I also encourage you to save a thought for your brother and sister who aren’t doing so well right now. I want you to spread the message that there’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness and there’s nothing wrong with being floridly ill. I want you to remember not only the positive stories but also the not-so-nice stories that are an absolute reality for so many.

Because it’s our job not to whitewash mental illness. It’s our job to stand up for it, warts and all. It’s our job to say that all the stages and severities of mental illness are okay. And true mental illness awareness means educating about, and acknowledging, all of it.

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About the Author

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer who specializes in writing about bipolar disorder.