You probably know someone who is affected by mental illness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four Americans currently suffer from a mental illness, and one in two will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. These statistics do not include the family, friends and community who are deeply affected by their loved ones' mental illness. Here at the Office of Minority Health, we are elevating the importance of this issue as a part of Minority Mental Health Awareness month.
During my freshmen year at the University of Maryland, I became involved with an on-campus organization called Active Minds. Active Minds' goal is to promote positive mental health while fighting the stigma associated with mental illness.
One of the first events that we put together was "Send Silence Packing." The centerpiece of this national event is 1,100 backpacks representing the number of college students that commit suicide annually. Some of the backpacks being displayed are the actual backpacks that these college students left behind. Family and friends will add stories and memorabilia so that whoever looks at the backpack can imagine the person that it was once attached to.
During that event, there was one backpack in particular that stood out. It belonged to a former student, John. John was rock climber, and a great student – sociable and beloved by everyone. His backpack must have had 50 or so personal letters from friends and family, each describing a precious memory they had of him. Those stacks of letters were all laminated and bound to the backpack by a single ring that seemed to be overwhelmed by the memories. Also attached to the backpack were pieces of rock-climbing equipment that he so often used with his buddies. It was obvious that John's backpack never looked like this when he was using it, but I have never been able to imagine anyone more vividly than John that day.
As I moved on, I recognized a woman looking at display in the far corner of the room. It was my 10th grade Earth, Space and Science teacher, Mrs. Suzanne Martin. When she saw me, she immediately gave me a hug and asked how I was adapting to college life. Mrs. Martin looked younger with her new hair style and she was as energetic as I ever remembered. When I asked her what she was doing here, she looked away and said, "I will show you". She took me to the entrance of the room and pointed to a backpack.
She took me to John's backpack. Suzanne Martin was John's mother.
At this point, I realized that I knew someone who was affected by mental illness.
Luckily, there are resources available for people living with mental health issues as well as their family, friends and caregivers. President Obama and Secretary Sebelius recently launched the website mentalhealth.gov, which examines mental health from many angles. The website includes the following mental health resources:
Join me and the Office of Minority Health to become part of the movement to promote positive mental health.
*Names have been changed.
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