May As Well Live Well: Mental Health Awareness Month
These days I’m a lot less likely to call people crazy, even if they are, and that’s because I have a sense of what the word really means. Many years after Neil Diamond and Grandma Prisbrey and the mustached bagel lady, my severely depressed brain and I walked right up to the shoreline of bona fide clinical madness. I dipped a couple of toes in the water to feel it, and I thought very seriously about jumping into the cold, dark, murky, depths. That certainly would have been easier than the alternative: exerting the strenuous emotional and spiritual effort to turn my back to the water and trudge back through the thick, hot beach sand littered with the sharp, fragmented shards of my ego, my dignity, and my sense of who I was. I stood on that shoreline for many months, all the while vacillating over which direction I should turn. There were days when I wanted to take that plunge because it was easier, because it would be far less painful and take a lot less effort than walking barefoot through the sand. But each time I felt like giving in, each time I stripped myself down and prepared to dive into the abyss, I chickened out. I couldn’t do it. I had no choice but to turn around, gird myself, and go for it.
It was hard to tell whether I was walking away from the darkness or toward something beyond the beach, but no matter the impetus, trekking across the sand was more grueling and exasperating than anything I’d ever done. I wept, I fell, I bled. Turns out it takes balls to go nuts, but it takes even bigger balls to fight back.
- Danny Evans, Rage Against the Meshugenah
If I had a dime for every time someone has used “crazy” or “insane” as an adjective to describe something that was “out of the ordinary”, I’d be a billionaire. (And I’d buy all of Donald Trump’s business ventures and subsequently tell him he was fired. That is besides the point.) People love “crazy” and not just misuse of the term- society has eagerly stood on the sidelines, eating crackerjacks and popcorn, as they watched Britney Spears endure a very public breakdown. Charlie Sheen may have lost his job, but he quickly gained more followers on Twitter than the Dalai Lama has, followed by getting his own tour that sold out in pretty much every city. Trainwrecks make the front page- scheduled routine maintenance, however, doesn’t.
Since 1949, May has been designated as “Mental Health Month”, something that I as clinician was not even aware of until this year. For more than 60 years, mental health advocates have been working to help people better understand mental illness, how to take care of their own mental health, and how to act as caregivers for others. More importantly, by focusing on helping people to understand mental illness, they have been working to shatter the stigmas associated with being “crazy”. Mental illness isn’t “crazy”. It’s not a disease; it’s a dis-ease, and together we can work to decrease the prevalence of mental illness in our society.
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. Although often misdiagnosed, and in same cases underreported, it’s estimated that about 32.4% of Americans aged 18 and older are living with a mental disorder every year. That’s about 75 million Americans. Mental disorders can also affect children, who are being diagnosed and medicated at rapid rates. According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), mental health problems affect one in five young people as well. Out of those 75 million Americans affected, 1 in 4 American adults live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition, and can go on to live full and productive lives with proper treatment (Mental Health America).
This year there are two major conversational campaigns according to Mental Health America’s website. “Do More for 1 in 4” is a call to action to help the 1 in 4 American adults living with mental health conditions.
The second theme, “Live Well! It’s Essential for Your Potential,” focuses on the importance of mental wellness and the steps everyone can take to improve their well-being and resiliency in the face of difficult times and challenges. Mental Health America’s “Live Your Life Well” program offers ten evidence based tools to manage stress, which is vital since chronic stress can contribute to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms- polls done by the American Psychological Association (APA) actually found that most adults are reporting that they are having an increase in their stress level. Techniques like meditation, biofeedback, and yoga can help you reduce stress, feel better, and grow as a person.
What Else Can You Do?
- Be aware. Recognizing the signs of mental illness is important. Occasional feelings of sadness, worry, anxiety, or sleep problems are not uncommon. However, when these feelings get very intense, are unmanageable, last for long periods of time, or begin to interfere with school, work, friendships and other relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety, conduct, and eating disorders are all types of diagnosable mental disorders found in children that can carry over into adulthood. Being able to spot changes in behavior in yourself or someone you love is a vital step in treating any mental condition.
- Don’t label or judge. Avoid throwing words like “crazy” and “insane” around to describe people, places, or situations. Avoid chastising someone who reaches out to you or tells you that they are depressed or anxious (etc)- it is not all in their head; there is a biological basis, and comments that are judgmental only serve to further alienate them, and may stop them from speaking up again, for fear of being judged, misunderstood, or labeled. It’s okay to tell people to stop using words like that in your presence as well.
- Emphasize strengths. Whenever anything is going wrong in life, whether or not a mental disorder may be present, it’s always a good idea to look at what is going right versus what is going wrong. Encourage behaviors you want to see and they will continue to be repeated.
- Well being is important. This includes healthy relationships, healthy food, and exercise.
- Get up, get dressed, show up.
- Join on us on our “Blog Party” on May 18, 2011. Get more info here.