According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 44 million people experience a mental health disorder in any given year. With millions more being indirectly affected,  psychological disorders adversely impact a significant portion of the U.S. population.

Even with the number of people impacted, many myths and misunderstandings about mental illness persist. Fortunately, the NAMI Mental Illness Awareness Week is observed every year to educate the public, fight stigma and provide needed support.

History of Mental Illness Awareness Week

Since 1990, the first full week of October has been recognized as Mental Illness Awareness Week. In 2019, the first full week of October and Mental Health Awareness Week begins on Sunday, October 6 and ends on Saturday, October 12.

The U.S. Congress established the awareness week as a response to the tremendous influence of mental health issues on citizens in the country. The week also recognizes the efforts of NAMI to provide education and boost awareness surrounding mental health concerns.

Although there is still a lot of work to do, the level of knowledge and acceptance of mental health issues at the time was severely lacking. People regularly thought that those with depression were just “being lazy,” kids would “grow out” of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mental illness was a lack of willpower. 

Now, society has a better understanding of mental health issues, the impact it has on people and what treatments are effective. The battle is not over, though. The negative stigma of mental health issues continues to harm people and impede their recovery.

Mental Illness Awareness Week Activities and Events

The Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign offers a diverse schedule of activities and events to mark the occasion. The activities and events help to raise money, increase awareness and raise the average person’s acceptance and knowledge regarding mental health issues.

Many groups and organizations schedule Mental Illness Awareness Week activities and events. This can include events like:

  • A speaker series – a person with first-hand experience of mental illness discusses the impact of mental health issues on their life
  • Video screenings – viewing videos and documentaries of people with psychological conditions followed by open discussions of the issues
  • Lunchtime movie series – ideal for schools or the workplace, finding a movie or video that offers stories of hope, first-person accounts and messages to fight stigma

Many Mental Illness Awareness Week events will involve charity walks where people gather for a 5k or similar activity. These events are fantastic ways to bring the community together for a great cause while offering new information about mental health and suggesting ways to help the efforts.

For more resources or ideas for awareness week activities, refer to local or national organizations like:

How to Help During This Year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week

People may feel overwhelmed or insignificant when it comes to making a difference during Mental Illness Awareness Week. In reality, each person can make real change in the world of mental health, and it doesn’t only have to come during awareness week.

Here are some ways to get involved during Mental Illness Awareness Week:

  • Participate or volunteer at a local event. A quick online search will display plenty of activities in the area. Contacting the organizers will yield a rewarding opportunity to donate your time.
  • Organize an event. This way to help may seem lofty, but organizing an event doesn’t have to be a struggle. Gathering a few friends for support to help plan and finalize the event can really give back to the community. Organizations even provide resources to help plan an event.
  • Share or create educational messages about mental illness on social media. You can use your personal social networks to promote Mental Illness Awareness Week events or other messages that fight the stigma that surrounds many mental health conditions.

Mental illness stigma continues to harm people in the U.S. and around the world. Stigmas are incorrect beliefs that may be commonly held, and they usually end up contributing to stereotyping and prejudices. 

All stigmas are unfair and hurtful to those with the conditions and the people who care about them. Do your part to reduce your stigmas and the stigmas of others through education, patience and compassion. Spending time with those who have a mental illness will show that they deserve love and acceptance, just like everyone else.

Additional Resources

NAMI offers helpful mental health resources for those with mental illness and their loved ones. To gain more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week and ways to make a difference, visit these pages:

Mental Illness Awareness Week comes just once a year, but people can do their part during the other 51 weeks by practicing volunteerism, understanding and kindness to themselves and others. Gaining or sharing just a little bit of awareness can make a huge impact.