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Call the NAMI Helpline at
Or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says whenever a tragic act of gun violence occurs, people with mental illness are often unfairly drawn into the conversation. "When we think about gun violence, what we know is that extreme anger, hatred and violence can motivate people to hurt or kill others. But we should never confuse strong emotions and beliefs with mental illness," Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy for NAMI, told ABC News. Because politicians, police and the public put so much attention on mental health in the wake of gun violence, Kimball said those who have been diagnosed with things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder face discrimination and marginalization. She said the world will often confuse those conditions with things like psychosis, which has many causes, including paranoia, Alzheimer's disease, drug use, trauma or sleep deprivation. According to Kimball, people with mental health conditions are 23 times more likely to be the victims of violence than the general public. "Blaming mental illness or mental health conditions for gun violence is really a distraction from the real issues at hand which are evidence-based risk factors and the fact that in our country, it’s easier to get a gun than to get mental health care," Kimball said.
More than 47 million American adults are experiencing a mental illness, and yet 57% of adults with a mental illness are receiving no treatment. The fundamental issue, according to experts, is that mental health care has historically been treated differently than physical health care. Jennifer Snow, director of public policy at NAMI, also noted that there is "a severe shortage of mental health professionals across the country." "Psychiatrists are not the only mental health professionals — there’s a robust continuum of professionals — but can you imagine if 60% of counties in the U.S. didn’t have access to cancer care?" Snow said. "I feel like people would be rioting in the streets." "Certainly with younger generations, more people are comfortable talking about their mental health care, but there are people who still look at it as something they should be able to get over and don’t look at it as a real health condition," Snow said. "We know that the brain is, in many ways, the most important part of your entire body."
According to the WHO, depression affects more than 264 million people around the globe. NAMI Connection was named best for virtual meetups in your neighborhood by Healthline. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a prominent grassroots organization working to build better lives for people experiencing mental health conditions. With more than 40 years of service, the organization has expanded to 600 local affiliates and 48 state organizations. NAMI’s storied history makes the organization a reputable resource, and those experiencing depression may find a helping hand in the NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group. The peer-led groups happen both in-person and online in cities around the country. Members who are 18 and over gather on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to encourage empathy and empowerment while sharing their own stories. Some chapters meet locally, but you’ll be surprised by just how many NAMI groups have embraced virtual meetups on Zoom. You can browse NAMI’s directory to find a future meeting.
Jerri Clark answered her phone to hear her son on the line. He had missed the window to check into a young adult shelter and was calling, to tell her, “Goodnight.” Jerri was distraught. That was 2017 and Calvin Clark had been homeless for a few weeks, the result of more than two years of obstacles since his bipolar disorder diagnosis. As his condition was growing more and more severe, Jerri was losing faith that Washington’s mental health system would be able to save him. Jerri and Calvin’s father had tried to keep their son housed and supported since his diagnosis at 19. But he didn’t want to live with his parents, he didn’t think he needed help, and he often didn’t take the medications medical providers prescribed. “The irony is it’s the very nature of the condition that people tend to think that there’s nothing wrong with them or that there’s something wrong with everybody else,” said Angela Kimball, National Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for NAMI. It’s known as “anosognosia,” and it’s one of the most common reasons why people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder stop taking their medications. “It wasn’t the illness that killed him,” Jerri said. “It was the system’s lack of appropriate response that killed him. He died of a treatable illness.”
In recent years there has been an expanding number of digital companies and nonprofits created to help people of color find a therapist they can trust, someone who is not only skilled in the best evidence-based treatments, but also culturally competent. Studies have shown that mental health treatments can be more effective when a client feels that their therapist values culture. When you eventually start seeing someone, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends asking yourself the following questions: Did my provider communicate effectively with me? Is my provider willing to integrate my beliefs, practices, identity and cultural background into my treatment plan? Was I treated with respect and dignity? Do I feel like my provider understands and relates well with me? If you can answer yes to each of these questions, you’re off to a great start.
A 56-year-old man missing for weeks after walking away from a community-based home for mental health patients was found sleeping on the streets of D.C. His family said it was two weeks before they were told he had left the home. His family was not contacted, but a supervisor at the home told them a police report was filed. “Treatment providers assuming that they can't communicate with families is a very big problem,” said Ron Honberg, retired director of legal affairs for NAMI. Honberg, an expert in mental health law, says sometimes homes misinterpret HIPAA. Often, the assumption is contacting family in these situations violates patient rights, but Honberg says that's not HIPAA's intention. “Those are the times when people are most vulnerable and those are the times people need compassionate assistance the most,” he said. “And yet laws are interpreted in a way that serves as bars to providing that kind of compassion and assistance. It's a real a tragedy.”
Many people looking for a new therapist or psychiatrist are coming up empty-handed as more potential patients are seeking mental healthcare. There are more patients than providers. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress are all consequences of COVID, explained Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. There is a change in the way Americans look at mental health but no change in the number of providers. Dr. Duckworth suggests checking with your work to see if there are other types of help. “Is there an employer-based resource that you can use on your own time? Millions of people have access to cognitive-behavioral coaching,” he said.
Mental health awareness has spread significantly in the past decade in the U.S. and around the world. Most Americans now say they value their emotional well-being as much as their physical well-being. But when it comes to diagnosing every person who needs it, and connecting them with care, there is still a long way to go. Some conditions tend to be particularly underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. “BPD is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health conditions,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s so misdiagnosed, in fact, that there isn’t even an accurate prevalence rate for the condition.” One reason for that is the symptoms of BPD often look like something else, including depression, anxiety or even bipolar disorder.
NAMI CEO Daniel Gillison is featured in a 30 minute podcast conversation and discusses the history of NAMI as well as how the mental health field has evolved and where it is stuck. The alarming criminalization of people with mental illnesses, particularly in communities of color, persists. The potential for taking the police out of mental health interventions is within our grasp. But it will take Daniel Gillison's call to action to fulfill its promise. Remember 988.
The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health over the past year. Maybe you're one of the nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. who has been living with a mental health disorder and the feelings aren't new; or maybe this is the first time you're experiencing anxiety or stress at this volume. Either way, the first step is clear: Ask for help. But it's not always that easy. "First of all, we have a supply-demand mismatch," says Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. "Obviously a big wave of the pandemic has been the awareness that people are struggling with isolation, job loss, grief, racial trauma — more people are seeking help." Demand has increased for mental health services. Yet the supply is unchanged, he says.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741