By Ruth Olson
Local chapters of the National Alliance for Mental Health are sponsoring events this week to raise awareness for an often-misunderstood problem – mental illness.
October today through Saturday is national Mental Illness Awareness week. Grover Jenson, president of the Utah County chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, said the purpose of the week is to educate the community about the problem.
The events this week include speeches by Alexander Morrison, emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Charn Burton and Stacy Holm from the HOPE suicide prevention task force committee, and William Marchand, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Utah.
Kim Haws, of the Utah branch of the National Alliance of Mental Health, said many people still have misconceptions about mental illness.
“People are still kind of caught up in that negative stigma about brain disorders and brain disease,” Haws said. “We want to be able to break that stigma.”
B.J. VanRoosendaal, public information officer for the Utah division of substance abuse and mental health, said one of the problems with the negative stigma, is that it discourages people from seeking help for their problem.
“A lot of people won”t admit it and don”t seek treatment because they think people are going to look down on them,” VanRoosendaal said.
Haws said another reason for the program was to let people with mental illness know there are programs available to help.
“It is like any other disease,” she said. “It devastates the family until we learn more about it.”
Many people don”t understand enough about mental illness to recognize when they have symptoms, VanRoosendaal said.
“I think a lot of people don”t realize they”re sinking into depression until they get really bad,” she said.
Jensen said some of the problems the Utah County chapter will focus on are suicide and bipolar disease.
Mental illness is not an isolated occurrence, Jenson said, quoting statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health that one in five Americans will be affected with mental illness during the course of a year.
VanRoosendaal said mental illness is a problem everywhere. Some of Utah”s biggest problems, she said, were depression and anxiety.
VanRoosendaal said Utah”s high population of university students contributed to Utah”s depression and anxiety rates. She said this is probably because of the high stress level among students.
The theme of this year”s Mental Illness Awareness week, set by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is ”Unity through Diversity.”
A spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said they choose the theme to promote multicultural outreach.
The first Mental Illness Awareness week was in 1983, and the first congressional declaration of the program came in 1984. Former President George Bush signed a presidential declaration for mental awareness week in 1990.
Highlighted events for Mental Illness Awareness Week
Charn Burton and Stacy Holm, members of the HOPE suicide prevention task force committee will speak on suicide prevention. The speech will be held on the second floor of the Children and Family Center in Provo at 7:00 p.m.
William Marchand, assistant professor of psychiatry and the University of Utah and staff psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration Salt Lake City Health Care System, will speak on biological causes of bipolar disorder and treatments available. The speech is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Utah State Hospital Administration Building, room 21
The UVSC National Alliance for Mental Health club will hold a run for mental health. The run will begin at 9:00 a.m. at the entrance to UVSC, 800 S. 400 W.