SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – In 1990, Congress established the first week of October as Mental Health Awareness Week (MIAW).

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Utah, more than 40 million people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition. Approximately one in five Utahns experienced a mental illness in the past year. Children are also impacted by mental health illness and spectrum disorders. During this time of heightened anxiety and isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NAMI says it is important for the mental health movement to come together.

Staff with NAMI says mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. They believe that mental health conditions are important to discuss year-round, but highlighting them during MIAW provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice. Since MIAW’s inception, advocates have worked together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.

Gunner Nielsen, a U.S. Army veteran and executive assistant for Nomad Alliance joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen for an IN FOCUS discussion. He shared the multiple mental health conditions he’s been diagnosed with, what he thinks some of the contributing factors are to his mental health issues, the barriers he’s experienced with trying to access services, how he manages his mental health conditions, the biggest support that’s helped him get through the hard times, and what he thinks we need to do on a societal and community level to help those who are facing mental health conditions.

Fonda Bryant is a mental health and suicide prevention advocate, who is also Nexstar Media’s National Remarkable Woman of the Year. She discussed some of her own lived experiences with mental health, the advocacy work she’s doing now, who can be affected by mental health and how widespread the issue is, the stigma that exists around mental health, how important language is when it comes to communicating about this topic, and the difference between how physical and mental health issues are treated.

Cathy Bledsoe, the assistant director of Hope4Utah talked about what inspired the creation of her organization, what prompted her interest and passion in this line of work, the connection between Hope4Utah and Hope Squads, the idea behind Hope Squads and how they operate, and how Hope Squads have expanded in schools across multiple states.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Nielsen, Bryant, and Bledsoe, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.