In an attempt to spread awareness regarding mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Week was established in the US in 1990. It is practiced in the first week of October every year, where participants across the world attempt to raise awareness, fight against existing stigmas and discrimination, and offer support in ways that are feasible to them (NAMI, n.d). Why is this important? In the present day, 50 million Americans have mental health concerns and greater than half of them are not receiving psychological care (MHA, 2022) . This is due to a range of barriers, including (i) stigma, (ii) difficulties accessing care, (iii) financial constraints, and (iv) a lack of awareness.
This article aims to highlight one of the most fundamental concerns regarding mental health — diagnoses. For some, this word can bring up feelings of fear, dread, and discomfort, while for others, this can help build a community, gain access to care, feel in control, and create a structure and vocabulary that helps articulate their experiences. The double-edged sword of a diagnosis is that while it can be helpful to some, it can also box in others, often reinforcing Western/White hegemonic ways of being and the pathologization of mental health concerns.
So, how can we navigate these complexities? It is important to view diagnoses as signposts to a larger problem, as entryways into healing, as merely one part of the whole picture. We must shift our focus to what causes the pain rather than the labels we attach to it. In this way, we can free ourselves from the rigidity of a diagnosis while still honoring the necessity for it.
This Mental Illness Awareness Week, let us remind ourselves that the field of mental health is complex, always evolving, and filled with tensions and contradictions. All we can do is try our best to create systems that work for us on an individual level while simultaneously pushing for collective change. Let us remind ourselves that mental health is a right, not a privilege; that there is no shame in a diagnosis or in accessing mental health care; that focusing on our individual healing is one of the most powerful ways in which we can create global change.
Mental illness awareness week. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week.
Mental illness awareness week 2022. Mental Health America. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.mhanational.org/mental-illness-awareness-week
By: Nethra Palepu
Mental Health Counseling Intern