We’re not going to say that this act of bravery went unnoticed. But we still think it’s worth calling some attention to it.
Every day for a week in September, two area women stood up in front of an audience to talk about their struggles with mental illness.
“We want to bring a message of hope,” Tammy Burrows told listeners in Oneonta on Monday. “And let people know that having a mental illness doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”
This is the 25th year that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been promoting National Recovery Month during September. This year’s theme is “Speak Up, Reach Out” — two things that Burrows, and her co-speaker Kate Hewlett, have been doing.
Of course, it’s October now, and Recovery Month has officially ended. But the message does not become irrelevant just because the calendar page has turned.
Burrows is team leader of the Otsego County Warm Line, a service that offers a sympathetic ear for anyone looking for someone to talk to. Hewlett is a peer specialist who organizes support groups at the Mountain View Social Club in Oneonta.
The two are embodiments of the message of Recovery Month: “that recovery in all its forms is possible, and also encourages citizens to take action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.”
As a society, we have made strides in bringing mental illness out of the dark. But there is still much work to be done. And there is a danger that the progress we have achieved has left too many people feeling like attitudes don’t need any further adjusting.
According to the CDC, 57 percent of Americans without mental health symptoms feel that people with mental illness are treated well, with care and empathy. Only 25 percent of adults with mental illnesses agree.
So it was brave for Burrows and Hewlett — and others who spoke during a week of programs about recovery — to step forward and tell their stories.
The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that one in five adults had a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder during the past year. This is not something that affects “other people”; it is not something that is confined to one age group, race, social class or other subset. And as Hewlett and Burrows demonstrate, it doesn’t have to define anyone’s existence. It is nothing to be ashamed of; nothing that needs to be hidden. It is simply one facet of who someone is.
For anyone struggling with mental illness and recovery, there are people out there who can help. Burrows and Hewlett are two of them; there are many more. The enormous amount of courage for many people to speak up and reach out for that help will pay great dividends.