May is mental health awareness month. Did you know such a thing existed? I’ll say it again in case it didn’t get through the first time: May is mental health awareness month.
Some facts for you if you’re still paying attention: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Suicide ranks in the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety is the most common mental health issue, affecting approximately 40 million adults in the United States, and only about 36% receive treatment. The stigma is real, but until we change the way we perceive mental health issues, symptoms, and illness, we are no closer to ending it.
Imagine you wake up early on a mid-December morning. Your head is throbbing, it hurts to swallow, your body aches, your eyes are watering, you cannot breathe through your nose, and you have coughed so much in the night it hurts. What do you do? I’ll go ahead and raise my hand here. If I wake up like this, I call the doctor. I find someone to diagnose the issue, assess my symptoms, and treat me/intervene so that I can recover.
Now imagine you wake up early on the same mid-December morning. You feel tired despite sleeping 12+ hours, you have no desire to get out of bed for work or shower or anything else, you have no desire to eat, you feel overwhelmed with emotion for no reason in particular, and you desperately want to avoid interacting with others (work, family dinner, brunch with friends, etc.). What do you do? If the answer is nothing or continue sleeping, then stay with me. What if we add nausea, headache, rapid heart rate, and difficulty catching your breath to the symptoms above….are you moving yet?
For most, the answer remains nothing or keep sleeping. For most, we do not want others to “think I’m crazy” or “be the depressed one” or have friends who wonder why we never call or come out because of “something I should just get over.”
So, what is the difference? Why is mental illness or emotional issues different than physical illness? Both have potentially life threatening side effects and both negatively impact how we live our daily lives. Why is it socially acceptable to get help, treatment, or intervention for one but not the other? The bottom line should be the same: diagnose the issue, assess the symptoms, and receive treatment or intervention in order to recover.
May is mental health awareness month. It has been in the United States since 1949. That’s 60 years. In 60 years, the stigma has persisted. Be the change. If you feel symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic, eating disorder, or any other mental health issue, then reach out to others around you. Talk…to someone…to anyone who you feel comfortable with who will listen. Make an appointment to discuss medication options if you cannot do it on your own. Practice coping skills, such as deep breathing. And if you do not know where to start or who to talk to or do not feel medication is the answer, then I’d love to listen.