~~ MAY IS MENTAL WELLNESS MONTH ~~
Believe me, I know. No-one wants to think about it. I am going to ask you to please be willing to anyway.
People certainly do not want to hear about it, I can tell you that from experience. I am going to encourage you to let yourself read about it, anyway.
What people do not want to know is that anyone they know has mental illness. But every year 20%, that is one in five adults, or 44 million people, experience some form of mental illness. The numbers that we know of for youth are similar: 16%, or one in six youth aged six to seventeen, experience some form of mental illness annually. Five percent of adults live with mental illness their entire adult lives. These numbers mean this: when you get together with family or friends for Memorial Day or Thanksgiving, one in five of those people there are struggling. On your street, in the dozen or so houses closest to you, where we can assume approximately 60 people live, 12 of the people who you talk to over the fence or wave to as you drive by are struggling with a mental illness this year, and three with a life-long mental illness.
I say that most people do not want to hear about this because I am one of those three, and that is my experience. I never told anyone for decades, not even my family of origin knew my diagnoses. The stigma was that strong. In the last few years, since I have been disclosing about this, I have had people actually suddenly step back and away from me when I told them I had several diagnoses of mental illness—I did not even tell them what they were, they just backed up and got away from me as fast as they could.
That kind of rejection just makes it feel worse. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, whatever the diagnosis is, we already are struggling, at times, to feel that we are okay and enough and deserve to be here. Being rebuffed for sharing the truth just emphasizes our feelings of otherness and makes us feel more isolated and alone, both things we already feel too much of already.
You can help. You can learn more about mental illness so it is not so scary, so you can react with compassion when someone expresses their pain. Like this fact: 47% of adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. That is almost one in two people, so your chances are one in two that you or a member of your family will experience it. Most people are lucky, it lasts for six months or a couple of years. But it can give you a taste, a sense, of what those of us who have been dealing our entire adult lives—mine started at age 12, many of those who live their whole lives with it start between 12 and 20 years old.
There are other actions you can take. The most impactful is to add this number to your favorite contacts: 988. It is currently available in Colorado and will be to the entire country after July 16, 2022. This is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their website says it all: “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.”
A person does not need to be suicidal to call. Did you ever feel at the end of your rope? You can call them. So angry you wanted to throw things? You can call them. You can also call them just to say: “I want to be able to help someone who is suicidal or in distress if and when I can, and I wanted to see what you all do.” They will be happy to talk to you for a few minutes. The chances of your actually calling to save a life increases by 80% when you call them like this.
Another way to learn more is to read and listen to stories of people living with mental illness. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has stories from those living with mental illness that are inspiring and realistic. SAVE, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education has suicide survivors’ stories of hope.
Another way is to be willing to learn about mental illness and talk about it. Take a safeTALK or QPR suicide prevention class. There is even an online certification you can take: contact me through the Lyons Community Library to get a code to take it. It is already paid for, private in your own home, takes about two hours, and can be done at your own pace. Take a Mental Health First Aid Course to learn more about different kinds of mental illness and how to identify and respond to them.
Everyone is at risk of mental illness. Our retired military are especially at risk. Attend the Eyes of Freedom at the Lyons Community Library June 6 through June 11 to learn more about the trauma to those who serve.
The single most important thing you can do, however, is both the easiest and for many, the hardest: open your heart to seeing that we are no different from you. Everyone has experienced moments of despair, elation, rage, grief, anxiety, or loneliness that we thought would tear us apart. Remembering that, you are more likely to find a beginning of understanding for those of us who live with those thoughts and feelings much or even almost all of the time. Through therapy, and with medications, and whatever other form of healing we work on (and believe me, almost all of us who live with this work at healing ourselves almost constantly) we are perhaps not in it all the time. But in my experience, it is always there, lurking under the surface, waiting for me to be exhausted, or overwhelmed, frightened, challenged, or sad. Suddenly, it is back, and I have to do all the things I have learned through the years to move back to and find some sort of equilibrium again.
One in five adults you know right now is going through some form of the above. You can help by learning more, by understanding better, by entering a phone number in your phone. Someday it could be you or someone you love very much. It helps to be prepared.
PRINT /or SAVE THIS LIST …for future reference …and to share with others
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call or Text 988;
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call or Text 988;
or call 1-800-273-8255
Colorado Crisis Services 1-844-493-8255
Crisis Text Line 741741 (or go to the website to use What’s App)
NAMI Boulder County (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Colorado
Servicios De La Raza: Mental Health Resources for underserved and uninsured populations, bilingual Spanish and English (Denver)
Comprehensive List of Mental Health Resources in the greater Boulder area