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This is the last post in a series on mental health awareness. This is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

invisibility-realMany disabilities are readily apparent. There’s no question that an individual who is blind requires the use of a cane 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 so obvious. Mental health impairments are among the most “invisible” and often least understood disabilities, even though they are among the most common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) … http://www.nami.org   … roughly 58 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year. In addition, one in 17 individuals lives with a serious mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, or bipolar.

The effects are as real as a broken arm, even though there isn’t a sling or plaster cast to show for it.”

 However, in spite of recent strides in mental health awareness, the truth is that there are still far too many people who are suffering from a mental illness who aren’t receiving treatment.

Mental Illness Affects MANY Lives

I believe that at least two people in my life have bipolar but they’ve never been diagnosed for it. The wife of one relative, we’ll call her “Judy” has mood swings so extreme that it’s led to an extremely stressful, and often estranged relationship with her extended family (especially her mother in-law, “Mary.”)

The issue is serious enough that Mary has only seen Judy’s young daughter (her granddaughter) a handful of times. When people feel like they’re walking on egg shells, not knowing if Judy will be nice to them over the phone, or blow up at them, calls and contact tend to decrease over time. But that only seems to make things worse because now Judy has something else to be upset about — Mary never calls!

That’s not the only person I know whose erratic behavior has left friends and relatives on pins mental-health-screening-spif-logoand needles for a long time. Undiagnosed bipolar (at least that’s our theory) led to a messy divorce between “Susan” and “Frank.” Susan, a nurse, was nice to friends and others much of the time, but when she was upset – look out! At various times she moved out, threw things, hurled insults, and much more. Poor even-keel, upbeat Frank tried to keep the peace, but how long can that go on if the individual isn’t receiving any help? And you’d think a nurse would know better.

Getting Help

Why don’t these people seek help?! And if not for themselves, to help the quality of life of their loved ones?! That is a tough question to answer. Judy and Susan may mistakenly believe that their condition is a sign of personal weakness (if they even acknowledge that it exists) or that they should be able to control it without help. Tragically, they do not recognize that getting a mental health screening, seeking psychological counseling, and educating themselves about their condition, is a sign of strength, and not weakness.

Here’s the thing: Time to Changehttp://www.time-to-change.org.uk  correctly notes that, “We all have mental health, like we all have physical health. Both change throughout our lives. And, like our bodies, our minds can become unwell.”

The more we better recognize that mental illness is every bit as real as physical illness, and get the necessary help, the better off we’ll ALL be.