Mental illness is a disease.
Like other diseases, it can be treated. And, just like any other disease, without treatment it can get worse.
Ignoring mental illness — and its many varieties — helps no one.
Unfortunately, it seems that needs to be said over and over, because some of us, many of us, just don't get it.
Millions of our family members, neighbors, friends, teachers and politicians confront their depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and bipolar disorder daily. And many of those same people have to try to control their disease alone and in silence, too afraid to seek help or discouraged from doing so.
That should not be happening.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and several organizations and groups are using that designation as impetus to host events to help us face facts.
The National Institutes of Health reports that one in four adults experiences mental illness each year, or about 61.5 million Americans. One in 17, or about 13.6 million people, lives with chronic, serious mental illnesses.
Kentucky ranked 49th in the number of poor mental health days, according to America's Health Rankings, which is the assessment of individuals who experienced limited activities in a 30-day period because of mental health difficulties.
To help get a conversation started, the University of Kentucky has been offering free events this month in keeping with this year's theme, "Mind Your Health."
Two topics, "ADHD: An Overview and Update" and "Challenging Stigma and Finding Hope: Exploring the Continuum of Suicide Bereavement," have videos that can be found on UK's Work-Life Office website.
Two more sessions are this week: "Mental Health Recovery Across Kentucky" at 5:30 p.m. today and "Older American's Mental Health" at noon Thursday. Both will be in the Gallery Room of the William T. Young Library.
On Friday, Bluegrass.org and Kentucky STARS, a statewide group of professions, consumers and family members, are hosting the 2014 Kentucky Consumer Conference at the Clarion Hotel in Lexington.
"It is for folks with mental illness learning about recovery," said Marcie Timmerman, Lexington communication specialist for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "It is for consumers learning how to help themselves and others."
Last year, 350 people attended from 14 mental health centers throughout the state. "They learn you are not alone and how to make every day a little better," Timmerman said. "They network with others and that is fantastic."
Some of the workshops include information for peer specialists, people who are in recovery and have progressed enough to work with others. Those topics include how to listen, ask open-ended questions and affirm the client's strengths in order to change behavior.
There are workshops for understanding veterans' issues, suicide prevention and self-help programs for adults diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse.
But the day also will include time for relaxation. There are workshops on simple drumming techniques, art, and the health benefits of laughter.
"It is a very fun day," Timmerman said.
The cost is $10.
Another event targets black churches and how they can be more aware of parishioners' well-being.
The Bethesda Ministry at First Baptist Church Bracktown is hosting, "Mental Health and the African American Church" in hopes of starting conversations about the ro le black churches play in s upporting families experiencing mental illness.
Shambra Mulder, a trained psychologist and professional life coach, said she and other panelists, including ministers, will follow the lead of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddle Back Church, who held an extensive mental health conference after his son committed suicide a year ago.
"We have our own unique issues," Mulder said. "And we have our unique issues dealing with the church."
The conference will be at 4 p.m. May 31. In addition to Mulder and ministers, panelists will include a school psychologist, a prison psychologist and a family therapist. Mulder said she hoped to get a consumer to share his or her experiences, too.
"I hope everyone comes, including white professionals and other cultures," she said, adding it was difficult sometimes to find a black mental health professional. "We want them to be culturally competent. Other people can come and listen to concerns from the horse's mouth, so to speak."
Pick and choose. Attend one conference or all. Do something. We cannot continue treating mental illness the way we do now.