By Paul Gionfriddo
There are half a million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems. That number can seem overwhelming, but for me, it’s all about one person: my son Tim.
Tomorrow is Tim’s 30th birthday, and I wish I could spend it with him. But I don’t know where he is, so this year I’ll have to settle for the memories of his childhood birthdays. Tim was diagnosed with schizophrenia over two decades ago, and has been homeless on the streets of San Francisco for the last 10. I am a former state legislator, a former mayor, a CEO of a national organization…and even I couldn’t prevent it. Because people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad public policy.
There are many differences between me and Tim…I’m in my 60s, he’s half my age. I’m 5’9”, he can appear towering at 6’ 5”. I’ve got graying hair, his hair is dark. I’m white, he’s black. But all of those difference don’t really matter…the only reason Tim is homeless and I’m not is because he has a mental illness. That’s it. Our mental health system has failed him and countless others, and it’s time to change that.
So I can’t turn back time. I can’t spend his 30th birthday with my son. I will pray as I do every day that he is safe and that one day we can get him the help he so desperately needs. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting just like Tim does every day. I’m going to fight to change our mental health care system, to work to get people the help they need when they need it, and to get this country talking and addressing mental illness before Stage 4. I will continue to fight for Tim and for the millions like him affected by mental and substance use conditions who have not had a voice for far too long.
Posts Tagged ‘Mental Illness Education’
People face many barriers on the path to receiving mental health care. Some of the most common are:
- Properly recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Knowing where to go for help
- Availability of services
- Cost of accessing services
- The stigma associated with accessing the service
Every day people are still made to feel ashamed for having a mental illness in spite of these being legitimate medical issues. We’d never dream of making someone with cancer feel as though they did something to “deserve it.” We couldn’t imagine looking at someone with diabetes and telling them that taking medication everyday to stay healthy wasn’t normal. I can’t comprehend telling someone with a broken leg, “If you put your mind to it you can walk without using crutches.” And yet these are the attitudes that those living with mental illness are still facing every day. Some people still fail to see the medical legitimacy in mental illness, causing many to be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help.
Courtesy of SAMHSA below are some suggestions for messages to share the helps reduce stigma:
Support People with Mental Illness –
Society needs to understand that people with mental illness are not the “other,” they are our family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They deserve understanding and support.
Learn More about Prevention –
Behaviors and symptoms that signal the development of a behavioral health condition often manifest two to four years before a disorder is present. Effective prevention and early intervention strategies reduce the impact of mental illness.
Help is Available –
Treatment and mental health services are available and effective. Local crisis lines can be a wonderful source of emotional support and an access point for referrals to professional mental health treatment. If they are in crisis or suicidal, Americans can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Canadians can dial their local crisis centre if they are suicidal or in crisis. Local helplines, crisis lines, and distress centres, or 2-1-1 Information and Referral lines can also be excellent sources of support and referral.
Recovery is Possible –
Most people are able to successfully overcome or manage mental illness, including serious mental illness, with the right treatment and support. Spread the message of recovery.
So during mental illness awareness week, I hope that we’ll all recommit ourselves to educating others about mental illness, and continue to chip away at that stigma. Helplines are on the front lines of this fight. Every day, people who haven’t yet talked to their doctor or a loved one about their symptoms choose to reach out to a helpline. Being greeted with the understanding, knowledge, and validation that helpline workers provide plays a huge role in reassuring someone that it’s okay to seek help.Continue Reading