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“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Bill Clinton

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Many disabilities are readily apparent. There’s no question that an individual who is blind requires the use of a mental healthcane or service animal to get around or that a person unable to walk will need a wheelchair or motor scooter. However, other disabilities aren’t as obvious. Mental health impairments are among the most “invisible” and least understood disabilities, even though they are also among the most common.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 58 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year. NAMI defines a mental health impairment as, “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning.”

I can count myself among these Americans. During a rough period in my life in which I was out of work for nearly a year, I was finally diagnosed with depression and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in spring 2002. I wish I had done so earlier, but then again who knew? For years I just thought that’s who I was and had to live with it… even though I grew increasingly envious of people who laughed and enjoyed life while I struggled to even smile. I knew being out of work was “part of it”, I mean, how many people are happy and bubbly when they’re unemployed? Still, who doesn’t have some peaks and valleys in their lives? And yet, most people seem to “bounce back” from problems quite well. Not me.

thI began to realize there was more to what was going on than just being “out of work.” They say that most of us going through a major life issue grow “sick and tired, of being sick and tired,” and so I sought the assistance of my wife’s EAP, which eventually resulted in my diagnosis. What a revelation! It went a LONG way toward explaining why I was having so many work-related problems; issues that crossed over into my personal life as well. I’ll never forget how I felt when I started my medication…it was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes. “So this is how I’m SUPPOSED to feel!” I thought. “No wonder other people are happier and enjoy life more!”

I whole heartedly encourage ANYONE who even suspects something might be amiss with themselves mentally (or someone they know for that matter)  to get checked out! It is a tremendous shame that bias and stigma remain barriers to mental health that need to be overcome – barriers that are at the heart of what Mental Health Month is all about. (This important observance is noted in the month of May.)

People wouldn’t leave a broken arm or a sprained ankle unattended, so why do some folks feel (men especially) that mental health is something they can just “tough out”?!  You can no more resolve depression or other disorders than you could that untreated arm or ankle! Mental health IS health!  And in this day and age, help is just a mouse click away.

Mental Health America offers a tool-kit that includes fact sheets, a poster, calendar of mental health tips, materials to use with the media and on social media, and more! Download an overview at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/MHA%20B4Stage4%20Overview.pdf

Other resources include:

National Alliance on Mental Illnesshttp://www.nami.org

Carson J Spencer Foundationhttp://www.carsonjspencer.org

MentalHealth.gov –  http://www.mentalhealth.gov

Active Mindshttp://www.activeminds.org/issues-a-resources/mental-health-resources