One in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year, and about 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.
Those statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness are startling, but shouldn't surprise anyone. Mental illness is as prevalent in the United States as any other disease.
Further, NAMI estimates that 2.6 million adults live with schizophrenia and 6.1 million have bipolar disorder. Also, 14.8 million people suffer from major depression and 42 million people live with anxiety disorders.
With so many people suffering from some form of mental illness, it is an issue that should not be taken lightly or ignored. In fact, odds seem fairly great that a majority of American families have at least one family member who suffers from a mental illness. It has affected my own family over the generations.
In an effort to get a grasp on the prevalence of mental illness -- or as President Barack Obama has said, to bring it "out of the shadows" -- the federal government has initiated a nationwide dialogue.
In the month following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were killed, Obama called for "a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health." U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are working together to bring about meaningful discussion on the grassroots level.
Mental illness is probably one of the most misunderstood maladies in the country.
At a national conference in June, Obama said, "Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see to it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health."
A part of the initiative is called "Creating Community Solutions," in which participants learn about mental health issues from each other and develop plans to improve mental health in their communities, according to the National Dialogue on Mental Health.
Included in that endeavor are "Community Conversations," in which small groups of people discuss and learn and hopefully find new ideas and ways to improve the mental health of people in their cities and towns, according to the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, based out of Norwalk. Among the primary goals is to "identify challenges that face residents and especially youth. Some groups also will focus on the issues concerning senior citizens, families with special needs and the LGBTQ population.
Sessions already have begun throughout Fairfield County and will continue for several more weeks. A meeting and "Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities" conversation took place earlier this week in Fairfield, but another is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, at First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road. For a complete list of meeting dates, times and places, consult www.healthymindsct.org.
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.