Bob Funk likes to talk about the absurdity of lumping everyone with a mental illness into the same category, even though there are more 200 classified mental illnesses.
“Someone with diabetes isn’t described as a ‘physically ill person’ the same way someone with depression is described as being ‘mentally ill,'” he wrote in a recent opinion piece.
The key is knowledge, he said, and in the same piece he went on to say: “Just as someone knows and understands the difference between a broken arm and the flu, people should know the difference between OCD and panic disorder. That understanding begins with real, honest, and specific conversations. It’s beyond important—it’s essential to ending stigma.”
That’s what the Awareness Network is about, ending stigma. Funk founded the group late last year with Jordan Brown. The two Helena residents say there are 150,000 adults and 25,000 youths in Montana living with an anxiety disorder, and they want to help them.
“There are some amazing organizations in this state when it comes to educational programs and support,” Funk said, the best known being the Montana chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “What we felt there is a lack of is … normalizing mental health disorders.”
Funk said he and Brown met a few years ago, when they were working for opposing candidates in a political primary. They started talking about mental health issues after Jordan, who was a member of NAMI, put up a Facebook post seeking donations for an awareness walk sponsored by the organization.
They formed the Awareness Network late in 2015 and incorporated the organization in March. They are now in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise at least $2,000.
Funk said it will cost nearly that much for the Awareness Network to gain 501(3) C status, which would make contributions to the group tax-deductible and would allow them to start seeking funding from foundations that give money only to nonprofits.
Ultimately, they want to put together public awareness campaigns, teaching people about the particular varieties of anxiety disorders, and to help people find the care they need. Part of that effort will involve compiling and making available a comprehensive list of treatment providers across the state, something that doesn’t exist now.
“We’re not experts by any means,” Funk said. “We just want to point people toward the experts.”
Funk said Brown has suffered from anxiety disorders, depression and some forms of obsessive compulsive disorders. Funk himself has been dealing with generalized anxiety disorder. He said he began to experience symptoms of the disorder in his early 20s and he had no idea what was happening.
That’s not uncommon, he said.
“Most people have no idea what they’re going through, and that’s why two-thirds of people don’t get treatment,” he said. “They’re either embarrassed or don’t know what they’re suffering from.”