For those who did not know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a behavioral health nurse, I see how important this is. How we all need to take the time to pay attention, not only to our physical health, but our mental and emotional health as well. To educate ourselves and raise awareness. Not only for us, but for our neighbors as well.
In 1949, the Mental Health America organization began recognizing the month of May as Mental Health Awareness month. Since then, other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and World Health Organization have also begun to set aside special times for recognition of mental health.
It’s a disorder. Not a decision.
So, what is mental health? Well, it may depend on who you ask. Some define it as a level of psychological well being or an absence of mental illness. Others define mental health to include someone’s ability to enjoy life while creating a balance of daily life activities and psychological resilience. Sigmund Freud defined this health as the capacity to “work and love”. This can encompass anything from everyday stress and anxiety, to depression, grief, PTSD, schizophrenia, and so much more.
What is unceasingly amazing, and disappointing, is our society’s lack of knowledge, understanding, and the stigma formulated regarding mental illness. It is as if we continue to reside in the 18th century with the idealization of insane asylums and lunatics. When you go research back to how mental health and mental illness was regarded during these times (even as late as the 50’s), it is nothing short of heart wrenching. And, although I would love to imagine that things have completely turned around as we have catapulted our way to the 21st century, all it takes is a step back to realize different. We have made great positive strides over the last few decades, however we have quite a long road ahead. As I mentioned, I am a mental health nurse, and so I hear first hand the thoughts that people still continue to have about those with any mental illness. You hear the terms “insane” and “crazy” thrown around constantly. People accuse others of faking it for attention. Now, I will not pretend that I have not encountered some who have seemingly falsified having a mental health complication for one reason or another. However my job is not to judge, but to help them. Not only as a nurse, but as a fellow human being who is just as susceptible to these issues as they are. My job is to realize that these issues exist, that there is no clear cut definition to judge each person by, and that each deserves a listening ear and a helping hand.
I am the same person I was before you found out I had a mental disorder.
Mental illness is more common than you may think. 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That is over 40 million Americans. 1 in 25 will experience a serious mental health illness. When it comes to the youth, the percentages of those dealing with mental illness continues to rise, but only 20% of them are receiving adequate treatment. 1 in 4 of the elderly population will suffer from depression, and elderly white males have the highest suicide rate. And although you would hope that these individuals would be able to receive appropriate treatment, 56% of American adults with a mental illness did not. Why? Well, there could be several reasons. Maybe it is because of the increased rates on insurance, inflated prices of treatments available, lack of resources, and the list goes on. And what happens to those who go untreated? They continue to feel alone, suffer, possibly continue to worsen. They aren’t able to receive the the resources to learn to heal and find hope. Lack of access to appropriate mental health care may even contribute to the reason that over 57,000 individuals (among the 3 states with the least access to care) with mental health issues are incarcerated.
So what can we do? Educate yourself. Don’t allow the idea of mental illness feel taboo. It shouldn’t be. Realize that this can mean anything from dealing with overwhelming daily stress, to the unresolved grief of a loved one, to chronic mental illnesses such as schizo-affective disorder. There is no limit of what it can encompass. Recognize the symptoms. Maybe they are ones you or a loved one is experiencing. (See my post, Discerning Depression, for information on depression and its symptoms). TALK about it. I cannot stress this enough. If you are having troubles, issues, concerns, tell someone. If you have a trusted physician or individual you can speak with, let them know what is going on. Ask for help. Know that these issues are not a character flaw. They aren’t a sign of weakness. It isn’t a choice. And for those who are being told listen! Just listen. Drop those derogatory terms and ignorant ideas that are connected with mental illness and listen to those around you with an open mind and a loving heart. Help them seek assistance and find hope.
If your heart can be sick or your lungs can be ill, it only makes sense that your mind can do the same. And if we have no problem speaking out loud of our physical ailments, we shouldn’t feel ashamed of discussing our mental and emotional ones either.
To those suffering with mental illness. Know that you are not alone. Know that there are resources and treatment available. Know that there are people who care. Who want to help. Take the first step to saving your own life. It may not be an easy journey, but you have the strength to get there.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
For resources for both service members and veterans, please visit http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans/index.html .
*Have any resources that have helped you or someone you know? Please leave them in the comments.*
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