Recognized in the U.S. every first week of October since 1990, Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) aims to raise public awareness of serious mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 60 million Americans experience mental health problems each year though fewer than one-third get treatment.
The stigma surrounding mental illness often prevents people from seeking needed treatment.
Tom Davis, Jersey Shore regional editor for Patch.com, hopes that his new book -- “A Legacy Of Madness: Recovering My Family from Generations of Mental Illness” -- encourages folks to seek help.
“This is kind of like a key to people. I want people to say that this is a new normal,” Davis said of his book, which was released Oct. 3. "Especially after 9/11 and with the economy being bad, people can feel like they’re helpless.”
The book’s message is, “That this is me, hey, I’ve been through that too. I’ve experienced that too,” said Davis.
He said that knowing others had mental illnesses helped him. “The worst part about feeling abnormal is that it makes you feel like you’re going through inertia. When you feel abnormal, you just don’t know what to do about it,” he said.
Davis said the best way to deal with your mental health is to talk through the issues with someone you trust.
There is help available. “911 centers. You don’t necessarily have to be an emergency patient to get help at a hospital, where psychiatrists are usually situated,” Davis said.
He said it is hard to take that first step. ”They don’t want to be stereotyped as the mad person,” he said. “Nobody wants to admit that they’re sick, [especially] when they’re a teenager.”
While writing “A Legacy Of Madness”, in which Davis shares his “worst-kept secret” -- his family’s history of mental illness -- Davis confirmed that “writing is therapeutic.”
Growing up, his family was afraid to talk about their issues, he said.
“My mother was the living embodiment of Howard Hughes. She washed her hands repeatedly,” Davis said.
Davis’s grandfather was an alcoholic. On the same day in 1928, his great-great grandmother and her eldest son committed suicide. Five years later his great-grandfather died of self-inflicted gas asphyxiation.
“We didn’t really start talking about it until 1998 when the issues flared up and we couldn’t sweep it under the rug anymore,” he said.
At that time, Davis’s newborn son didn’t smile for the first three months of his life.
“It was a relief to suddenly talk about it. Then I started to see things in myself. Then I noticed that there might be a family virus.”
In 1998, for the first time, Davis saw a psychologist, who told him his stress levels were much higher than average.
“I was in denial at first. It was shocking a little bit. I was trying to push everything to the side,” he said.
At the age of 32 in 2000, Davis was diagnosed with bulimia though he had had the eating disorder since he was 18.
Besides talking things through, Davis said a bit of medication helped him.
‘I used to be really anti-medication," he said. "One misconception is that medication is going to help you too much and turn you into some weird person who’s too giddy. It just helps you manage your mental illness."
“Another misconception is that medication is going to cure you," Davis said. "It doesn’t cure you, it helps you manage the issues you’re dealing with.”