I recently attended a 40th anniversary gala for an amazing organization in North Carolina: Caramore Communities. Caramore is a wonderful model for helping people diagnosed with mental illness develop the life skills to manage their chronic illnesses. I plan to tell you much more about this group of people in a future blog.
Chair of the board, Heidi Hackney, closed the ceremony with a passionate speech about the stigma of mental illness. She announced to the entire audience that she suffers from no fewer than three diagnosed mental illnesses and proudly said, “I am not ashamed.”
We all know the statistics. We all know the urgency. If you are working in the behavioral health community, you are well aware of the urgent need for more facilities, more practitioners, more awareness, more everything! There were over 30,000 victims of suicide last year and the year before that and the year before that… We have a public health crisis and not enough people understand it.
Worse, many people are ashamed to admit that they have mental illness. At one of my recent talks, I asked the audience how many people there knew someone with mental illness. Over half the hands went up. Then I asked who in the audience has mental illness. Not one hand! We don’t just need to raise awareness of the need, we need to help people get comfortable talking about this. Mental illness is exactly that, an illness. It isn’t your fault, and like Heidi, you shouldn’t be ashamed.
Heidi’s declaration at the gala was more than a personal testament. She was publicly announcing her illness in order to educate the entire assembled audience about the “Campaign for the Brain,” symbolized by a silver ribbon. She had arranged to distribute little silver ribbon pins to all of us in attendance. I haven’t gone anywhere without mine since that day. After the talk, I told Heidi that she is my new hero, but we need a lot more heroes if we are going to finally change the perception of mental illness. Please, go to silverribbon.org and order silver ribbon pins. Proceeds go to the not-for-profit Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation. Wear yours every day, and tell everyone what it means.