Mental illness panel encourages awareness

by Todd Milbourn

Students, staff and faculty members gathered in Nicholson Hall on Thursday to raise mental illness awareness.
The four-member panel discussion, featuring speakers from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, discussed personal mental illness experiences and informed students how to become allies to those with mental disorders.
Last year, more Americans suffered from mental illness than cancer, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, according to the alliance.
“The brain is like any other organ,” said fiction writer and panelist John Strom. “It can get sick.”
Disability Services estimates that 10 percent of University students suffer from mental illnesses, but only one-fifth seek treatment.
Panelists said because many mentally ill people fear unsympathetic responses to their diseases, they remain in the mental illness “closet.”
Words like “psycho,” “spaz” and “wacko” are particularly discouraging and perpetuate mental illness stereotypes.
“Any word that equates illness with violence especially hurts,” Strom said. “A mentally ill person is more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.”
Panelists used their own lives to disprove these stereotypes.
Sandy Thompson, an award-winning computer programmer and teacher, suffers from bipolar disorder.
“Mental illness is only this much of me,” she said, measuring the amount with her fingers. “But really, I’m this much,” she added with her arms spread wide.
The panel agreed that learning facts about mental illness, avoiding condescending demeanors and approaching situations with humor can help friends and family become allies to people with a mental illness.
“Awareness and tolerance aren’t spontaneous, they take education.” Strom said.
The panel, sponsored by the Disabled Student Cultural Center, was part of Mental Health Awareness Week and Disability Awareness Month.