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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”

Did you know?
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S….43.8 million, or 18.5%…experiences mental illness in a given year.

Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S….9.8 million, or 4.0%…experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. 

Whether you are aware of it or not we come in contact with people dealing with mental health issues every day…your neighbor, coworker, cashier at Publix…me. I write often about anxiety, empathy, coping, mental wellness and the human condition…did you know that I am one of the 1 in 5 adults living with mental illness?

The average person deals with a multitude of stressors, hardships, and difficulties, yet not all of them are mentally ill. How can we tell the difference? Should we be afraid of the mentally ill? Why do some people choose to take medication while others do not? How do you know if you are mentally ill or really just “terrible at life”?

First things first…you are NOT terrible at life…if you feel you may have a mental illness, see a behavioral health specialist and/or a psychiatrist. Depending on your situation you may do really well with talk therapy and not need medication or you might try a combination of both. I’m not a doctor so I can’t say what’s right for you. My best advice about doctors is if you don’t find a person you are completely comfortable with then keep looking, there are some really great professionals out there…and there’s some not so great ones…when it comes to mental health (all health) concerns you have to be your own advocate and speak up when something isn’t working. Speak up and make sure they hear you!

As for the questions you may have about those of us living with mental illness, they are a lot harder to answer. Mental illness operates on a spectrum…and we all fall in somewhere on that spectrum. There can be coexisting conditions, and mental illnesses can improve or get worse…or even seem to go “dormant.” Some people go years without an episode, and just as suddenly find themselves in a psychosis. What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot of layers to mental illness. If you care about someone, and want to get to know them, tell them you care and ask them about their diagnosis. The tricky part about that is it’s really difficult to talk about mental illness with “new” people. There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that people will downplay their struggle or go as far as pretending to be “normal” until they’re alone or with people they feel are “safe.”

Sound exhausting? Yeah, it really is.  So exhausting that we avoid people and places and isolate ourselves when we don’t feel strong enough to keep up the facade.

I’ve always felt my slightly overdeveloped sense of empathy comes from living with or around mental illness. My father was manic depressive but diagnosed very late in his life (around 50) which means I was exposed to all the terrible things that can happen when mental illness is left unchecked; self-medication, risky behaviors, instability, conflict, violence, abuse – a lot of suffering.

Awareness has come a long way since the 90’s but we have to do better; be better humans and let people know that just because they live with a mental illness it doesn’t mean they’re broken, fundamentally unlovable, or lost – and they definitely don’t have to go through it alone. ♡

If you want to learn more on this topic go to nami.org and here’s some books by Jenny Lawson that have helped me cope with my own mental illness:
Furiously Happy
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

credits:
Artwork © Aimee McEwen. Personal use only. Not for commercial use.
Photo: Alisa Anton   Mental Health Statistics via nami.org
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