October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Today is not October 10. I purposely chose not to post on the actual day. While I understand the importance of causes having “a day”, I believe that we need to keep awareness going LONG after that one day. For that reason, you will see this post promoted on my Facebook page and Twitter, frequently throughout the year. I don’t want people to forget when October 10 becomes a distant memory.
Oxford dictionary defines mental health in the following way:
- 1.a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being:“all this pressure seems to be affecting his mental health“
Such a simple definition for such a complex condition. If you struggle to maintain good mental health, you understand the complexity of our psyche. I use our in this blog because I do struggle with anxiety and I love people who struggle with anxiety, so I claim the “our”. I’ve learned ways to cope and I’ve learned to support those I love, but the truth is that anxiety is rarely far from taking hold on me. So, although I don’t struggle with other mental illnesses, I do own anxiety and how it impacts my life. So, yes, I’m using our as a collective term for those of us who struggle with one of the many mental illnesses.
What, for some people may be a bad day or a bad moment, can seem monumental for those of us who struggle. A slight tip to the right or left can leave us feeling unworthy, invaluable or like we have failed at life. A traumatic event that many can just move on from can torment us for years and years to come. Situations can race toward us like a freight train making us respond physically because or mental stability is being challenged. Every day life can pile so high and become so heavy that we can’t breathe. The poor mental health “incidents” can be brief, last a few weeks or months or can consume our lives. Each person and their diagnosis is very unique.
If you don’t struggle to maintain mental health…count your blessings. A disability that is often said to be invisible impacts lives, sometimes more than most physical diseases could.
Why? Why do people struggle with mental health? Why can’t people just stop? Stop thinking about the bad stuff! Stop focusing on the negative! Stop reliving trauma! Don’t worry so much! Don’t let people get to you! Be confident in who you are! You should be happy, look how beautiful you are. I should entitle this section, “And other stupid things people say to us.”
But, wait! I know what you are thinking, “Chris, you always tell us to be positive, focus on our blessings and to stop reliving trauma! Isn’t this hypocritical?” NO! Well, maybe a little. See, I believe, with absolutely no medical degree to back my thoughts, that we should focus on the positive things in our world.
I DO believe we should stop beating ourselves up by reliving trauma over and over. In fact, personally, I wouldn’t even hire a therapist unless there was a plan to help me move forward and STOP reliving trauma repeatedly. I do believe we should focus on our strengths. I think focusing on the negative and traumatic is very detrimental and can lead us into an even darker path. Honestly, if I didn’t spend so much time focusing on the good, I’m not sure what my mental state would be. I’m pumping positivity, scripture and good stuff into my brain constantly. I don’t believe that these things ALONE are the answer for everyone, but I certainly don’t think they can hurt.
Society tells us that no one wants to hear our problems. Take a look at Facebook or Instagram. No one is posting, “I’m feeling really sad today. I need help.” Instead we see post after post of happy, beautiful people. No one is openly struggling with depression, bipolar, anxiety or schizophrenia. If someone does post, they get slammed that they are seeking attention. No, our jobs are to portray a life that says we’ve got it all together and if not, we will be ridiculed. So we deal with our issues in silence…kinda.
I don’t believe that poor mental health is silent, I believe others have selective hearing. I think people who struggle often are sending signs to others. Sometimes that may look like crying, yelling, or always being sick.
Other times, that may look like the single mom who is working three jobs and taking care of two kids while she’s trying to go to college.
It may look like the dad who is always doing things alone.
Sometimes it may look like the woman who snaps at her spouse or the man who snaps at his kids.
Sometimes it may look like someone who is always tired.
Sometimes it may look like the teen who has it all together and stops taking her meds.
Sometimes it may look like the boy who goes to school with a smile but is ridiculed by peers.
Maybe it’s the 8 year old who refuses to do their homework.
Maybe it’s the 12 year old who refuses to go to school.
Maybe it’s the 30 year old who suddenly goes silent on Facebook.
We’ve become such a “mind your own business” society. We no longer relish community. We no longer reach out to one another to offer support and encouragement unless something big happens. Do you think that mom with two kids and three jobs is loving life? Do you think that person who is always exhausted is doing great? People rarely send out an email saying they are not sure they want to live anymore. Or a text that says they are terrified to leave their home. They just act. We have to start seeing signs. We have to start paying attention to one another. We have to stop minding our own business.
On this World Mental Health Day, I want to remind you to love one another. Not just during big moments, but daily, all the time. Will this cure mental illnesses? No. But, what it can do is possibly prevent tragedy, help someone through a tough moment and maybe let someone know they are cared for and that others are there to help.
Many times people with mental illness feel like they live in a very small world. They question how many people actually care. They question their impact on the world. When they are in a bad cycle, those feelings become stronger and when no one is reaching out to love them, it confirms their feelings. I know it may not make sense to you, but that’s because you don’t have mental health challenges. If it was a logical process, we wouldn’t have a day for awareness.
So, how can you help? By all means, this is not an exhaustive list, but a place to start.
- Stop trying to figure us out. We have doctor’s for that. We don’t need to analyze us. We don’t need you to tell us everything we are doing wrong. Don’t try to solve our problem. That doesn’t mean to stop trying. Please encourage people to seek support and professional help.
- Listen. Without judgement. Listen to the words we are saying, our fears, our emotions, our thoughts, all of it. Some may not be rational to you, that’s okay. They aren’t your thoughts. But, understand that to the person, they may feel very, very real.
- Accept our apologies, but expect better. Sometimes we can be irrational. Sometimes we can say things we don’t mean. Sometimes, we lie. Are any of these okay? Of course not. Our illness is not a valid excuse for being cruel to another person. If we recognize we were out of line and apologize, try to accept it. Try to work out a plan so that in the future the hurt can be avoided. Calm conversation after the tense moment is over is the best time to come up with the plan.
- Reach out. Try to connect even if we appear we do not want to hear from you. Admitting you need help is hard…for most people. So giving help before we ask is so much appreciated. Haven’t heard from Sally in a while? Reach out and invite her to coffee or leave her a message saying you are thinking of her. Send a quick message of support.
- Engage your strong empathy tools! You know when people are having a hard time. Don’t pretend that you don’t. Have some empathy. Because my blog is focused on the disability community, I’m gonna use that as an example. You know that mom of the teenage boy with autism or cerebral palsy or down syndrome is leading a challenging life. Imagine what it’s like to live in her shoes. She probably has a minimal social life, stress in her marriage, stress in managing home and work, stress in trying to be a mom, nurse, doctor, therapist, teacher and social worker. Reach out to her! Just say, “hey, I hope you’re having a great day. You’re a great mom.” Do you know what small message of love or hope do for someone?
- Know the signs when someone you love is beginning to spiral. They may need you to get them help. They may need you to make hard decisions and tough calls. They may be angry at you for reaching out to get them help. Do it anyway. They will forgive you in the end.
- If someone asks for help, give it. Don’t turn your back on someone asking for help. It takes courage to admit help is needed, be there for them. Don’t turn away. If you don’t know what to do, ask them. Ask them what they need from you and then figure out how to help them. Be kind to the person. They’ve chosen you to trust.
Yet, even with the most loving families, supportive friends and beautiful futures, we still lose beautiful people every day. Look at these statistics from the CDC:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2017:
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people.
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
- There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).
These numbers are staggering. My heart hurts for the loved ones left behind. The ones who are left to ask why. The ones who loved their friends and family hard, yet that wasn’t enough. The ones who DID everything on this list and more, yet it wasn’t enough.
If you are struggling today, know that we need you here. No matter what you’ve done, choices you’ve made, or situations you perceive, your life is worth overcoming them.
As I was writing this blog, I flipped over to Facebook. The top post broke my heart. A member of one of the communities I’m a part of died of cancer a few weeks ago. Tragic. Cancer sucks. But, I was not prepared for the post I saw today. Her boyfriend of many years decided that he couldn’t live without her. He decided that life was not worth living without her here to share it with. My heart is broken. I know he was surrounded by people who loved him. People reached out to him. People tried. But, even that was not enough to keep him here. Maybe for some people there is nothing that can be done. I don’t know. But, what I know is that this reinforces everything I wrote here. Please connect with one another. Please try.
If you are struggling, please reach out. Call a friend. Call the authorities. Call a colleague. There is absolutely NO shame in asking for help. You have a purpose. You were created with purpose and this world will NOT be the same if you aren’t here. You are loved. You are worthy. You are wanted. ♥
National suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
You can even connect via text: Text CONNECT to 741741
In the words of my boyfriend’s mom,
Be ye kind.
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Disclaimer: There are exceptions to every rule. Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires. The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.