Mental (Health) Month
May is Mental Health Month, but in my house it's always mental health month. I take anti-depressants and I wouldn't dream of stopping my medication. Depression runs in my family and I do what I can to stay on top of it. I have no reservations about discussing this. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed. To me, it's like having crooked teeth or high cholesterol. My genetic traits are a fact of life, and some need medical attention.
But mental illness still carries an enormous stigma, and raising awareness is the best way to change this kind of thinking. One in five people will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Early intervention and preventative services can make a huge difference. If you or someone you know is worried about their mental health, there are a number of tools and programs available, including free online self-screenings.
Taking a mental health screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. The good news is that many conditions like depression or anxiety are common and treatable. There are support groups and counsellors in your community and online. There are peer-run warmlines to call if you're not in an immediate crisis.
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 24. Most people don't know what to say to a friend or loved one they are worried about, but you can learn what signs to look for and how to respond to them. You can share your own story of living with a mental illness to encourage others to open up or to ask for help. Whoever you are, there are ways you can make a difference.
They are medical conditions that cause changes in how we think and feel, and they're not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. I once exclaimed to a friend that everyone I knew was on antidepressants. He said that no one he knew was on meds. His tone was kind of smug, I thought. I asked what people did in his community when they felt depressed. "They drink!" he replied, like that was a more respectable solution. Substance abuse, for some, is still less scary to admit than depression. No one should be afraid of reaching out if they or someone they know needs help. Mental health professionals are trained to help a person understand their feelings, and can recommend appropriate treatment. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome, generally speaking. But with the right support, and by playing an active role in your own treatment, you will have a good chance of recovery.
When I was a kid, mental illness was a taboo subject. Families didn't speak about it, and the whispered term "nervous breakdown" had a dark and sinister connotation. I still know people who view bi-polar or schizophrenic relatives as pariahs. If only they knew how common these diagnoses are! One in 17 people lives with a serious mental illness. Their wellbeing affects us all.
Dispelling myths is important to encourage understanding and compassion. Don't tell anyone to "pull yourself together" or to "get over it!" Learn to listen. Learn the risk factors of suicide and PTSD. If you're experiencing extreme mood changes, intense worries or fears, difficulty concentrating, persistent sadness or fatigue, you might want to take a screening test to decide whether to talk to a health professional. For many people, getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step in a treatment plan.
Before I started taking anti-depressants, I worried that my sensitivity and suffering were an integral part of my actual Self. I was afraid to numb or subvert those qualities. But guess what? They are the symptoms of faulty neurones, not the essence of my identity. Shit that you attribute to your weak will power or your awful parents might be shit you can manage with the right meds. If you're embarrassed about a mental illness, don't be! Speak up. If you're concerned about a friend, reach out. If you're struggling right now, today, hold on! There are tools and strategies to help you feel better.