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Stand Up and Ask, “Why Isn’t Mental Health Just Health?”

16 September 2014

Allison accepted the Stand Up Challenge from community health leader Erika Viccellio, and once again found herself pondering this question, “Why isn’t mental health just health?”

Tags: allison read, balance, happiness, health care, healthcare, mental health, social media

On 28 August, in the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, my dear friend Erika Viccellio was inspired by the groundswell of community involvement that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge created worldwide this summer and launched the Stand Up Challenge. Erika is The Executive Director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic and one of the Chairs of the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition. As you’ll see in her video, Erika is hoping that we might all “stand up” to shrink the stigma of mental illness. (Check out the Facebook page to see all of the other wonderful videos members of our community have been posting in the last two weeks.)

Do you remember Robin Williams in his groundbreaking role as a teacher in the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society? I watched it again last night and was so moved by the many ways he taught his students to see the world differently and to ask the bigger questions. If you don’t remember how the movie ends or you’ve never seen it, I hope you’ll watch it soon. You’ll quickly remember or see for the first time why Erika chose this image of “standing up.”

Erika challenged me to stand up last week and I decided that climbing to the top of a ladder on the fourth floor of our community theater, Live Arts, was the right place for me to tape my video. Live Arts is one of my happy places where I feel loved and accepted even when life gets especially sad for me. At the end of my 68-second video, you’ll see that I asked the question I always ask about this issue, “Why isn’t mental health just health?” (If you're not on Facebook, you can watch my video on YouTube.)

(That's me standing at the top of a ladder!)

I first blogged about this topic on 13 November 2013 after a friend posted Larry M. Lake’s article on Slate, "Comfort Food: No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter is an Addict." Please read my post and Larry’s article so that you and yours can start asking the bigger questions about mental illness.

As you’ll see on the National Alliance of Mental Illness site, there are a wide variety of conditions that are covered under the term mental illness. I especially appreciate this from the NAMI homepage, “A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life… Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.”

Too often we expect ourselves and others to just “muscle through” or “tough it out” when it comes to the multitude of illnesses that fall within this category related to our minds. We would never do that to someone who was dealing with illnesses in other parts of the body and we need to stop doing it when it comes to mental health.

Given the prevalance of different forms of mental illness today, chances are good that most of us are close to at least one person who will face a mental illness at some time in his or her life. We all have a part to play in shaping a healthy community, so if you’ve read this far, please consider yourself challenged by me to stand up! You can learn more about how to post your video and make a donation at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation site dedicated to this wonderful cause.


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