While the leaves are changing, it is getting colder and greyer outside and terms like “winter depression” are used with a very broad brush.
The first week of October returns as Mental Illness Awareness Week, or MIAW.
What many consider the trickiest part about mental illness is that it is invisible most of the time. Due to this invisibility, the founders of MIAW felt it was important to raise awareness and sensibility about the topic, something nearly 50 million Americans experience each year.
Since Congress officially established the week in 1990, organizations and individuals have spread awareness of mental illnesses every year in the fall. The topic of this year’s MIAW is “What I Wish I Had Known,” something many OU students can connect to.
“I wish I would have known that mental illness is not something I have to struggle with alone,” Judinya Brevik, a junior majoring in sociology, said. “And taking medication is okay. It’s normal to struggle but that doesn’t mean you have to struggle for a long time.”
Kaitland Herron, a sophomore studying psychology and switching to family consumer sciences, said there were many things she wished she had known regarding mental illness.
“Good prevention techniques, like ways to be aware of mental health and positive mental health, instead of learning about illnesses when you’ve already been exposed to them,” Herron said.
Kevin Hamm, a sophomore studying communications, said he believes mental health should be discussed more commonly.
“I just didn’t think it was much of a big deal,” Hamm said. “And seeing myself and my friends and how they are now, I feel like if I paid attention to mental awareness and like mental illness, I feel like it would be different.”
Another way to bring more awareness to mental illness and provide prevention is through organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.
NAMI has a local branch in Athens where they offer a support group, which takes place twice a month on the first and third Thursdays. Tina Trimmer, the Executive Director of NAMI Athens points out one of those sessions will be this week.
Each year, NAMI organizes a “Walk the Walk for Mental Health Awareness” during MIAW, but this year they had to adjust schedules to best serve the student body.
“We usually have a ‘Walk the Walk for Mental Health Awareness’ in the month of October, but we have to schedule it around Homecoming, because otherwise that sort of dominates that Saturday,” Trimmer, an OU alumna herself, said.
This year will mark the 21st annual Walk the Walk and only the second walk post-COVID-19. The walk will take place on Oct. 15 and starts at 11 a.m. at the Athens Courthouse. There will be a rally with speakers, free t-shirts and a parade down Court Street.
“This is an opportunity for those who support awareness around mental health conditions and give them an opportunity to make their presence known during October,” Trimmer said.
While there is a broader shift in society to talk more about mental illnesses openly -- and Athens as a college town houses a lot of initiatives, such as the Bandana Project or psychological counseling services -- outside of this local bubble, mental illnesses are often still stigmatized.
“Especially in this region, Appalachian people tend to be, you know, they sort of take care of each other and take care of themselves,” Trimmer said. “They’re very self-reliant, they’re very resilient people. So, historically, they haven’t reached out of their family unit to get help with mental health conditions. And it has had devastating effects.”
Therefore, Trimmer said NAMI wants to normalize conversations around people struggling with their mental health, especially in Appalachian Athens.
Those who may struggle with mental health can reach out for help and schedule an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 740-593-1616. In case of an emergency, please call 911 or the OU Police Department at 740-593-1911.