May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
I have a mental illness. I have Major Depression.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 children in America will experience mental illness this year. Unfortunately, a large number of those will not receive the help they need…primarily because of the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. This is why I am speaking out in the hopes of educating others so that they can help themselves and/or their loved ones.
Mental illness is a medical condition. It is a disease. It is not something that someone can ‘just get over.’ Very few people will experience exactly the same symptoms because the diseases are so complex. But, just like other medical conditions such as cancer or hypertension, it can and should be treated. Left untreated, it can be a terminal illness. Most people will respond to talk therapy while others will need specific medication along with therapy to see an improvement in their symptoms.
My personal experience has been with depression. I was first diagnosed and placed on anti-depressants in 1995. Even before that, I was in and out of therapy several times. I’ll share more about my own experiences in future posts.
In general, depression is a mood disorder that can dramatically effect daily functioning when left untreated or when someone is in the middle of a major episode. It is more than the occasional sadness or grief that many people experience at some point in their life. It leaves a person feeling hopeless, with little or no motivation and sleep disturbances among other things.
From the NAMI website:
Each year depression affects 5-8 percent of adults in the United States. This means that about 25 million Americans will have an episode of major depression this year alone, but only one-half receive treatment. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of these symptoms tend to increase over time. All age groups and all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups can experience depression.
Many people associate talk therapy with having a mental illness. While it is true that many people in therapy are diagnosed with some form of mental illness, it is also beneficial as a preventative measure, especially for those with mild depression. In February, Huffington Post had an article titled: “8 Signs You Should See A Therapist.” Among the signs listed were:
- Everything you feel is intense
- You’re using a substance to cope
- Your relationships are strained
- Your friends have told you they’re concerned
These can be symptoms for someone with depression, but they can also be signs of someone under immense stress that needs to learn better coping mechanisms. Lots of people see a therapist for just a few sessions just to help get their life back on track. Visit the article for the full list and specific information on each sign.
So what can you do if someone you know has a mental illness? There are a number of definite things to do or say as well as what NOT to do/say. Among the most helpful things to do is educating yourself and knowing that there are many different intensities of mental illness that people experience. Most people do not understand that even depression can be completely disabling for a person. Read what you can or even join a support group to hear from others’ own experiences.
Remember that we are not our ‘true’ selves when we are in the middle of an episode. Don’t take what we say or do personally. It’s okay to be angry or upset, just don’t hold it against us…especially if we really are doing all we can to get better.
Whatever you do, please, please never utter the words, “just get over it” or “cheer up” or “suck it up” to ANYONE! You just don’t know how deeply that could hurt someone that is dealing with depression. It can take months or years for someone to come out of a really deep episode. Hearing these words only pushes us further down and hinders our recovery.
Depression, by its nature, is a very lonely and isolating disease. It is so easy to feel that our disease is ignored by the bulk of America. We see support ribbons all over the place for other diseases or medical conditions but where is the public support for mental illness? The images in the press of someone with a mental illness are almost always someone that has committed a horrendous crime. Or, more recently, it is the war veteran that is unable to get appropriate treatment. But, we’ve been around forever. Those images represent just a small number of us with a mental illness.
Stand up and speak out for someone you know with a mental illness. Join a walk to raise awareness for mental illness. Go to Bring Change 2 Mind and make the pledge to stand up against the stigma and let others know you have down so. Donate to an organization that works to end the stigma and make changes in the medical policies surrounding mental illness.
Most of all “do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Luke 6:31
- Bring Change 2 Mind
- How to Help Someone with Depression
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Take an anonymous depression screening at www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org