Barbara Ricci and her siblings were in their 20s, she tells an interviewer, when she began noticing that her brother was acting odd. Two years later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The video in which Ricci appears is part of a campaign run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in honor of the 24th annual Mental Illness Awareness Week, which begins Sunday, October 6. The campaign, called “I Will Listen,” aims to raise awareness about the importance of mental health by urging Americans to support loved ones struggling with mental illness.
Ricci’s video currently appears on NAMI’s New York City Facebook page alongside dozens of video clips featuring people talking about their individual struggles with mental illness or the difficulties of watching a friend or family member cope. Almost every video highlights this statistic: One in four Americans struggles with mental illness. And each story ends with the speaker pledging his or her commitment to approach mental illness from a place of kindness and understanding: “My name is _____, and I will listen.”
Not every video ends as neatly as Ricci’s: NAMI is currently running televised advertisements in which a man named Mike Thompson gives a brief, tearful account of his brother’s suicide. Part of the campaign’s purpose is to show the potentially devastating consequences of ignoring mental illness.
Although the campaign is geared toward all Americans, young adults have a special reason to pay attention. Research suggests that many mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, begin to develop in the late teens and early 20s. At the same time, psychologists suggest that young adults tend to feel negatively about and disconnected from mental health services What Are Young Adults Saying About Mental Health? An Analysis of Internet Blogs. Marcus, M.A., Westra, H.A., Eastwood, J.D., et al. Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada. Journal of Medical Internet Research 2012 Jan 30;14(1):e17..
It’s difficult to measure the success of a campaign such as “I Will Listen,” and it may take a long time for people to start thinking differently about mental illness. But hopefully, this campaign will remind those experiencing mental illness that there are individuals willing to help, and empower people to offer their support when they suspect a loved one may be struggling. Even when we can’t “cure” someone, this campaign reminds us that it is always worth it to listen.
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