By Tyler Mackie, NAMI Seattle guest writer

It’s a beautiful early May evening, the sun is setting, and a rock concert is happening on the Seattle pier. Last week, I had the opportunity of seeing a band perform that believes in bringing awareness to mental illness. The band, Gypsy Temple, was playing because NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness had asked them to perform their new album, which speaks about the struggles in youth regarding mental illness. NAMI had asked Gypsy Temple to perform because they were celebrating mental illness awareness month by lighting the Great Seattle Wheel green.

After the concert, I had the pleasure of speaking to two women, Elise and Anna (names have been changed, for privacy), who have both been impacted in some way by mental illness. I asked them both if I could ask them a couple of questions regarding the ways their lives have been impacted by mental illness.

I started by asking my girlfriend, Elise, about the way mental illness has affected her life. She told me about how her mother struggled with depression throughout her childhood. Elise was unaware of the problem, but her mother tells her now about what it was like: with four children to raise her mother felt like she had no choice but to suck it up and not let it impact the way she raised them. Once her mom began pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychology, she understood that what she was going through would require seeking help.

I was curious about what she thought could have changed her situation as a child. Elise explained that even though she was so young when her mom was going through depression, she might have been able to recognize her mother’s struggles had she been aware of mental illness from a younger age, which would have allowed her to communicate with others about getting her mother the help she needed.

I asked Elise what she would tell someone who was struggling with mental illness or knew someone who was struggling with mental illness. She told about how her mom expressed that without her education in psychology, she would have not sought out help, which could have led to a harmful situation. Elise told me that educating people on mental illness is the first step in changing the way our society deals with it. She expressed, “Many people live in the dark, not knowing that there is help available for them. Some are ashamed to say they have a mental illness, and some think that their mental illness is just a part of who they are. That view of mental illness is lonely and isolating. Shedding light on the issue will help destroy the negative connotation attached to mental illness.”

I was curious about what brought Anna to the concert, and if she had been personally impacted by mental illness. She told me that she was friends with my writing professor Laura Umetsu, who also serves on the board of NAMI Seattle as treasurer. Anna told me that Professor Umetsu had invited her to attend. She went on to tell me about how she started to realize at a young age that her mother suffered from mental illness. Although her mother was not diagnosed until much later, she understood the severity of what her mother was going through.

Anna was happy to hear that music was being used as a platform for bringing awareness to mental illness and that Gypsy Temple was willing to share their stories and connections to mental illness to help shed some light on the issue. Anna shared her thoughts on the impact music can have: “Music is healing and powerful.  It expresses feelings and emotions that people may have difficulty articulating.  People can identify with a lyric, song, or band that has helped them through a rough moment in time.  Sometimes it makes all the difference.” Anna shared with me that mental illness will always have an impact on her life, and had it not been present in her family, her life would be very different because she would have made choices and grown differently than she did.

The last question I asked Anna was this: “What advice would you give to people struggling with mental illness in their family?” She expressed to me that mental illness can be really hard to discuss, but it is important to talk about it and seek help from those around you, such as your family, friends, and close community. “What helps me is relating to people who understand my experience.  Also, having outlets for decompression is important – for me, that is running, journaling, listening and playing music.” Anna said she would want them to know that they are not alone, and people care about what’s going on, so don’t be afraid to open up because getting treatment is such an important part of dealing with it.

I could not agree more with Anna and Elise. I have also struggled with mental illness in my family, and it has greatly impacted who I am today. I wish I could have heard that advice when I was younger to encourage myself and my family to talk about what was going on. I am so glad that people, like the band members of Gypsy Temple as well as the people at NAMI, are shining the spotlight on this issue in order to get help to those who need it. Together, we can change the way mental illness is seen and dealt with to stomp out the stigma on mental illness!

Tyler Mackie is a student at the UW Bothell School of Business. He is part of the Spring 2019 NAMI Seattle partnership with UW Bothell’s business writing course taught by Professor Laura Umetsu.

To learn more about upcoming events with Gypsy Temple, see here.  NAMI Seattle and their community partners frequently host free mental health themed events to benefit the local Seattle community. You can find a list of their current events here.