To wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to leave you with five things everyone must understand about mental health, whether you are suffering yourself or know someone who is:
1. Recognize it and confront it. The most important part of dealing with mental illness, whether it is depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc., is to recognize it and confront it when it exists.
Many parents and kids (particularly teens) don’t want to admit when a family member is having trouble. Many are afraid of what the illness will do or they feel ashamed, thinking that they are mentally weak. Sometimes, those who are religious compound the problem by believing that if the person just prayed the illness would go away. Many, including the religious, tell friends that they should not take medication, that the problem is in their head. This is a cruel thing to do to a suffering person. The truth is, physicians have treatment plans for mental illness just like they do for diabetes, infections, cancer, etc. To shame a person into not getting treatment is horrific.
2. Stay in tune with your loved one. A teen may suddenly become angry and lash out or hide in her room for hours on end. A mother may start yelling at family members for no good reason. A child or loved one may start having sleep issues, lose weight or stop doing things they used to love to do. If you pay close attention, chances are excellent that you can intervene and get help right away.
Most parents miss issues between themselves or between themselves and their kids because they are so focused on what is in front of them that they fail to see what is going on in a loved one. If you just take one week and work hard to listen and get your focus off of your immediate problem at hand, you’ll have a good chance of catching a mental illness problem.
3. If you are concerned, act. Often the person suffering mental illness waits too long, feeling that this will pass. If they see a loved one with it, they will feel the same way. Don’t. Go to your doctor right away and express your concerns. The sooner you get help, the sooner you heal.
4. Throw away shame. One of the biggest challenges that specifically mothers face is feeling shame about their illness. They believe lies such as: If I were a better mother, I wouldn’t feel this way or I can get these feelings to go away on my own or If I were a stronger person, I wouldn’t have the feelings. Listen, please. Mental illness is not your fault. It is an illness just like pneumonia, a broken leg or diabetes. It isn’t who you are, it is something that you have.
The conversation about mental health doesn’t end with the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. This needs to be an ongoing conversation, something that people feel like they can talk openly about and get the care they need.