Spring has sprung! As I look around, Mother Earth is in bloom. Trees are sprouting new leaves, plants are growing, and the grass is green once again. I love spring and all that it represents — hopes for new birth and rebirth. For those who are unaware, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
I write this week to encourage those who are battling and surviving mental illness and any related disorders. It serves to urge everyone to actively recognize the warning signs of someone in need of assistance. This column is a call to action to offer support, empathy, a safe environment, and to eradicate stigma.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental illness, and one in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. Mental health continues to be an issue that is under-discussed, undertreated, and often ignored. However, there are warning signs.
My experiences of having MS and heart disease have introduced me to depression and anxiety. From my window seat, my eyes opened to the struggle that many people face on a daily basis. I have vowed to learn about mental health disorders, speak openly about them, share my personal experience, get acquainted with available resources, and offer encouraging words.
On my journey as a heart health and MS advocate, I have met people who struggle, survive, and thrive with mental illness. I have realized that there is one commonality that we possess, which is to know that we matter. We need to know that someone cares and that they hear our voices. There is a desire to feel that we have value and the longing to feel that life, in all of its tragedy and turmoil, is really worth living.
My nephew had a mental illness, specifically a co-occurring disorder, for most of his adult life. Although he is no longer with us, I can recall several conversations we had. He had a desire to reach out and help others, and he often spoke of how his faith helped him through difficult moments. He also spoke of the judgment and stigma that accompanied his diagnosis. As I reflect on personal and professional experiences, I realize that stigma limits progress and recovery. Some people will avoid seeking help or reaching out because they are fearful of rejection. We each have a pivotal role in eliminating the stigma that often accompanies mental health disorders.
Please know that mental illness is not something a person can “just snap out of.” It takes much more than that. Mental illness, like any other illness, must be treated. Professionals must be consulted. But we can offer support and compassion, practice empathy, and tell someone, “I love you. I care.” Ask them: “Are you OK? Can I help? I care.” These positive affirmations and questions can make a difference.
To those surviving mental health illness and related disorders, I can only imagine how tough this road can be. I believe in you, and I believe that you are here for a reason. Keep fighting. Your family and friends need you. The world needs you. Never give up, because you do make a difference. Life is worth the struggle; remember you are never alone. Tell your story. There is hope and help out there.
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