Woman raising arms with confidence
Woman raising arms with confidence


Mental or emotional problems are the fourth leading cause of disability in the United States.1 Most people with mental illness can see real improvements with the right treatment. Some mental illnesses are even preventable. Unfortunately, access to services is a big problem. Adding to that, we are often afraid of people with mental illness because of stereotypes shown in the news. A general lack of information, especially when it comes to treatment and recovery, also plays into this fear.

Uncovering Mental Illness

Last spring, I had saw a presentation called “In Our Own Voice” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Local NAMI chapters run this program in their communities, often at high schools and colleges. Each presentation is led by two people in recovery from a serious mental illness. They aim to reduce the fear and stigma linked to mental illness by sharing their experience.

“In Our Own Voice” is broken up into five segments:

  • Dark days (the hardest part of their struggle with mental illness)
  • Acceptance (how they learned to accept their mental illness as an important step on their path to recovery)
  • Treatment (the specific treatment plans that have worked for them)
  • Coping Strategies (strategies that have helped them achieve and maintain mental wellness)
  • Successes, hopes, and dreams (reflections on success and goals for the future)

Each segment starts with a video clip of several people with mental illness telling their stories. NAMI presenters pause the video in between each segment and share their own stories.

My Experience

“In Our Own Voice” was an eye-opening and uplifting presentation. I noticed that everyone had a unique story, but there were many common themes. For example, most had a hard time accepting their illness. It was also really hard for them to find the right providers, medications or therapies. Finding the right plan often took years of trying doctors and treatments that didn’t work. Some struggled with family relationships and lost those relationships altogether. Many found the unconditional love of a pet to be really valuable. Everyone had successes to share and hope for the future.

I felt that the program empowered the audience with new perspective. We also had the rare opportunity of being able to ask any questions we had about mental illness in a setting where this was encouraged and expected. It was clear that the presentation also empowers the NAMI presenters because they know that they are making a difference by sharing their stories. As awareness spreads, hopefully this will lead to better access to services and more people can live in recovery.

More information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the “In Our Own Voice” program.

1 Brault, M. Americans with disabilities: 2005, current population reports, P70-117, Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; 2008.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *