As we look toward Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s not forget that we are discussing a condition with which, according to a report in 2019 by the World Health Organization, over 700,000 people died as a result of suicide. It is estimated that of those, some 45.8 thousand are Americans. And those are just the people accounted for because they got some form of treatment or their death certificate stated the cause of death was suicide. The reporting is not always clear, but it is what we have. It has been believed that those numbers reported have been low mainly due to stigma. Given that these numbers were obtained before the world pandemic of COVID-19, one can only speculate how large the real number is today.
The most common form of mental illness is depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders follow that. Many people put off treatment for these conditions for various reasons. “I don’t have the time,” “I’m not crazy,” “I don’t want anyone to know,” “Will I lose my job.” “It will go away.” And when it gets worse, people will try to self–medicate. Some with Sleeping, Some with food, and some with prescription drugs or alcohol. Sadly, these personal remedies usually make these negative feelings more pronounced.
Nobody wants a mental illness. Nobody wants heart disease. Both are illnesses, but they very seldom share the same stigmas. You see, it is sad that someone has heart disease. But mental illness usually brings severe ridicule like, “What did you do to cause this? “or “There is something wrong with me that cannot be fixed.” “I am less of a human being, and I bring shame to those who love me.” All of these thoughts are so common, yet so wrong. The simple facts are these. People do not decide to have a mental illness, they don’t get out of bed in the morning and say, “Today, and forever, I will be addicted to alcohol.” Or, “Today is the day I will start the rest of my life with a severe and persistent mental illness.” At the same time, some people are born with chemical predispositions. Predispositions could make addiction more likely to that individual; however, that is not always the case in addictions. Also, there can be chemical compositions in the brain that could lead to Mental disorders. Still, most mental illnesses result from previous life traumas that often do not get the needed attention. Thus, the internal mind festers and becomes overwhelmed.
This is why putting off getting help for mental illness is so unhelpful. Most diseases of the mind are curable and, at the very least, can be helped to give someone back a healthier life. The beginning of talking about our feelings is tough but made better when people are surrounded by individuals who care, ask, listen, and want to help. We all need to talk about mental illness until it is so common that we do not have to feel less of a person for having it. And by the way, almost everyone does have some form of mental illness. The challenge for all of us is to talk about those feelings we have.
So, this month of May has 31 days. 31 Days that give us all an excuse to talk about mental health. Try it; you may be surprised by how giving others can be. Once May is over, remember that one year has 365 days. Imagine all the changes that can happen in a year. An inspirational author and therapist shared a thought for us all trying to understand Mental Illness. She says, “Feelings are something you have; not something you are.” Simply put, what a great way to start that conversation.
Rik Cornell, LICSW
VP Community Relations