Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 4-10.

Since 1990, when Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), advocates have used this time to educate the public about mental illnesses.

The theme of this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week is, “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.”

What do they want you to know and why is this important?

When we hear people’s stories, we better understand the impact of mental illnesses on an individual and their family. We understand the difficulty people face obtaining care and treatment in a timely way.

We understand the discrimination people face when their insurance won’t cover the treatment they need, their employer doesn’t understand the accommodations needed or the school doesn’t understand how to support a young person.

When we listen – really listen – we also hear people’s hopes and dreams. We learn the determination and courage it takes to walk this journey. 

We learn that hope is a verb and that recovery is possible. We learn the importance of reaching in and providing support to our loved ones or friends when they are struggling.

There is another benefit of hearing people’s stories.

As Susan Burton said, “Telling your story is transformative. For both the storyteller and their audience, a new bridge to understanding is created.”

There is something powerful in sharing your story – you own the narrative. You understand the power of words that can change attitudes.

To those who live with a mental illness, do not let your voice be silenced. Share your story, increase the understanding surrounding these illnesses.

To the families and friends of those who live with a mental illness, you also have a story to tell, a story that will help others not feel so alone.

Finally, during election season, please share your stories with candidates running for office.

They need to learn what works and what doesn’t, the barriers to accessing care and supports and the realities of having a mental health system that hasn’t been built.

– Sue Abderholden is the executive director of NAMI Minnesota For more information, call (651) 645-2948 or go to namimn.org.