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A Time to Reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. and Mental Health

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Today we live in a world filled with much uncertainty, but one thing is certain… with time, things usually move along.  However, for those who suffer from the effects of mental illness, this can become increasingly more difficult.  There are some individuals where the suffering is physically obvious, but you will often never see or hear their hurt and pain. Martin Luther King JR. was one of those whose pain many did not see or at the very least understand.  We know from his friends and writings that he had periods in his life of despair and grief starting in early childhood. Looking back, what is remarkable is how he used his feelings to become one of the greatest Leaders, Peacemakers, and Heroes of all time.  We know that history keeps showing us that today’s world is not the world once lived in by others, but there are so many similarities. So many, in fact, that to ignore them, we run the risk of not ever really understanding how we got here today. Further, we risk repeating the past’s tragedies or injustices by not paying attention and understanding the past’s tragedies or injustices.

Having the opportunity to have traveled to a number of places in this world, I have seen that people are very much the same. They may dress differently and communicate in different languages. They tend to have respect for different customs and gods. They even have different beliefs and values. Happily, they will fight over whose food is better. However, the most obvious difference is in the color of their skin.  Sadly, this has often dictated the status in which one or more groups of people are treated or even allowed to exist throughout history.  This has led to centuries of injustice on many levels.  But despite these serious flaws in our humanity, we do have so much in common and so much to offer each other that is good. We all need and seem to desire love. Most all need others in their lives, even though they tend to be very diverse in describing those companionships.

Mental illness has stricken so many through the years. Many will say that everyone has had to deal with emotional stress, loss, and depression at one time in their lives.  It will often go unnoticed or hidden. COVID has shown us just how susceptible we all are. And by the way, it does not care about your skin color or if you are suffering the effects of a mental illness. But when we look at mental illness or skin color, the reaction is the same today as it has been for thousands of years throughout our history. The way they have been stigmatized has its reasons as well.  Why?  Because it was seen as another reason to place individuals below others, thus having control over them by taking away their freedoms.  These actions have kept individuals from reaching out for help or getting the resources to meet basic needs. Therefore, they never get to reach their full potential, and it often serves to take away the wonderful gifts they could have shared with so many others. One can only imagine what our world would be like today.

Much has been written about the life struggles of Martin Luther King JR.  His early battles with depression and suicide attempts. Even as he got older, his moods and depression seemed to become a double-edged sword. One side filled with an exhausting depression while the other the gift of understanding.  For it was in those times he could see beyond the despair, and he was able to see what mattered in his life and the lives of others around him. His clarity helped him understand the right path we all needed to follow to get to the “promised land.”  He saw that change would only come when we accept that we are all connected and realize that we need each other. One could easily argue that this is the real reason why we were all put together in this mystery of life. To make a better life for all, with the strength of our combined differences. Can you imagine that? A great lesson that is so much still needed today.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.  on Monday, January 17th, let’s ponder over just some of the remarkable things he said;

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”.

“You cannot solve a problem with anger or hatred. It takes empathy, patience, and compassion to overcome anger, hatred, and resentment.”

And my favorite, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Mental Illness is not a choice. It is a powerful trauma that eats away all that is good and hopeful in an individual’s life.  It pulls people from each other and leaves them alone.

As people who work in the field of Mental Health, we are working hard to change that every day. People are getting better and living more resilient lives. We intend to press on till no one who suffers from a mental illness is judged by that illness. They, too, should be judged by their character and the gifts of joy they give to others for being the wonderful people they are. Thank you, Martin, for reminding us of that.

Rik Cornell, VP of Community Relations



Another year and another month to reflect and spend some valuable time thinking about our Mental Health.
As we enter Black History Month it is important to understand the issues surrounding mental illness and how this has and continues to play in the lives of African Americans.
As we get closer to the end of Suicide Awareness Month, I have some thoughts to share with everyone. We all know that if we only pay attention to Suicide Awareness during September, we miss all the times people struggle throughout the year.

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