According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 44 million American adults experience mental illness every year – and nearly 10 million suffer from a mental illness so severe that it interferes with their daily activity. Even if we’re not aware of it, we all know people who are suffering from mental illness: our friends, our family, our neighbors, our coworkers, and ourselves.
But even so, there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness – in the media, in popular culture, and in our everyday life. We don’t like to talk about it. We think of mental illness as something that happens to ‘other people.’ When mental illness appears in the media, it’s often depicted as something dangerous and scary. And when our friends and family experience mental illness, we often don’t encourage them to get treatment. Instead we tell them to “suck it up” and “just get over it.”
In order to address the larger issue of mental illness in our society, we need to work to eliminate that stigma. It’s one of the most critical first steps.
With that in mind, the local nonprofit Faith Connections on Mental Illness is gathering this month in Chapel Hill for its seventh annual conference. This year’s theme is “Transforming Lives: Overcoming Stigma in Mental Illness.”
Faith Connections on Mental Illness was founded in 2008 by people from numerous local churches. Its mission: “to work with all faith communities to welcome, include, support, educate, and advocate for individuals and families who are living with mental illness.” In addition to the annual conference, FCMI offers educational, advocacy, networking, and other resources to individuals with mental illness – and works with faith leaders to help parishioners struggling with mental health issues.
Miriam Fahrer is the vice-chair of FCMI’s board of directors. She discussed the upcoming conference with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.
This year’s conference will take place on Friday, March 31, from 9:00-4:30 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill. (It’s open to everyone; Fahrer says they’re expecting several hundred attendees.) The keynote speaker is author and psychology professor Patrick Corrigan, whose books include “Coming Out Proud to Erase the Stigma of Mental Illness.” Other speakers include UNC-Asheville communications professor Don Diefenbach, who will discuss stereotypes in society and the media – and four East Chapel Hill High School students, who will discuss how local schools deal with mental health issues.