I phoned the Evanston Public Library to see if May had a special focus like some other months (e.g., Black History Month for February; Women’s History Month for March). A librarian researched this for me and found/read numerous titles for the month of May. 

Some of the titles focused on ethnic or religious groups, but many referred to health issues. 

In 2013 President Obama proclaimed May as National Mental Health Awareness Month to bring “the issue of mental health to the forefront of our nation’s thoughts.” 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), May 4-10 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and May 8 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

As revealed in newscasts, many mental facilities have closed.  These closings may save the state/county money, but they leave many mentally ill citizens without a place for consistent medical treatment.  Incarceration of the mentally ill without treatment is certainly not in the best health interest of the mentally ill. 

As a teenager, I worked in a mental facility the summer before going to college.  It was an eye opener. People in my hometown had referred to some people as “a little touched,” but I had never been around people who had mental illnesses that required daily medication and psychiatric care. 

Most unnerving was when I encountered an adult who worked in the grocery store down the street from where I lived. We talked, and he told me about his mental breakdown. Seeing him in a mental facility was a little scary for me. I had known him since I was a little girl. When I had to move on to care for another patient, I gave him a hug, wished him the best and said I would visit him again.

Currently, I live in an Evanston neighborhood in which many mentally ill persons reside.  Although many of the mentally ill that I meet on the street seem oblivious to their surroundings, others greet people and sometimes engage in conversations. When a friend suffering from a mental illness was treated as though she could not think, she proclaimed, “I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”

The personalities and intelligence of the mentally ill vary just as they do in those who are not mentally ill. May is a month for people to focus on mental illness, but treating those with mental illness with respect and compassion is something to practice throughout the year.

“Although the world is very full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  Helen Keller, 1880-1968, American writer and lecturer.

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...