Mental Illness Awareness Week

Kate Middleton recorded a video message to support Children's Mental Ilness Awareness Week. Getty / Wireimage

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) runs the first full week of October each year and was initiated in 1989 by the United States Congress. Each year, arts and music events, lectures by healthcare professionals, promotional campaigns, movie nights, vigils, and benefit runs are held to raise awareness.

Here are five unusual facts you may not have realized about MIAW:

1. Not Everyone Thinks We Should Have It

As blogger Susan Mifsud notes in her article "Do We Really Need a Mental Illness Awareness Week?" we are inundated in many ways about mental health, so many of us might think that we are already "aware" enough. What is the need for a special week to recognize mental illness? Mifsud correctly argues that much of what we "know" about mental health is unfortunately distorted and promotes misconceptions.

For example, Mifsud cites statistics indicating that around half of Canadians were unsure they would socialize with a friend who had a mental illness and half would be unlikely to enter a spousal relationship with such a person. This is why we need a week of campaigns; to educate and reduce stigma.

2. It May Not Benefit the Seriously Mental Ill

In contrast, according to an article by DJ Jaffe, founder of Mental Illness Policy Org, published at Huffpost Healthy Living, efforts at reducing stigma such as mental illness awareness week are misguided.

In the article, Jaffe says: "Rather than provide services that would make people with mental illness more welcome in the community, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) funds ‘anti-stigma’ efforts to change the people in the community. Say what?" Jaffe notes that unlike the campaigns which proclaim that people with mental illness are "just like you and me," in fact, those with serious mental illness are different, suffer greatly, and need help—not the minimization of differences.

3. It Does Not Officially Exist Anymore

Going a bit further, according to Jaffe, while MIAW was enacted by the United States Congress in 1989, it was only re-enacted in 1990 through 1993. Since then, it has not been officially recognized by Congress. However, it continues to be celebrated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

4. There Is More Than One

Do you ever feel confused about exactly when Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place? There might be a reason for that. While the one recognized by NAMI takes place during the first full week of October, there are others. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Alliance of Mental Illness and Mental Health’s (CAMIMH) Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place in November. Then there is the National Children's Mental Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place in May. Then there is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) celebrated by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK. While it's great to have all these weeks to support mental health, it sure can get confusing!

5. The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton Supports It

In a recorded public service announcement, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton offered her support for mental health initiatives for children. In the video, speaking about Children's Mental Health Week, she states: "Together, with open conversations and greater understanding, we can ensure that attitudes towards mental health change and children receive the support they deserve."

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