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May is Mental Health Awareness Month
It all began in 1949, Mental Health America (MHA) started an awareness campaign to educate the masses about mental illnesses. With this campaign in mind, MHA hoped to erase the stigma of having mental illnesses by educating the uninformed on what it was all about and that these conditions are something biological or natural, not some human-made creation. Now in its 68th year, Mental Health Awareness Month has multiple tools and activities to aid in the education and changing of perceptions of mental illnesses such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and much more.
With that said, why do I personally care about mental health awareness? I’ve dealt with it firsthand, and during a time, it was quite the stigma. During my childhood, I had bouts of sadness or excessive crying. This behavior was dismissed as being typical childhood dramatizing of simple events. But was it? As a small child, I threw temper tantrums when I didn’t get my way or became frustrated. After being tested with a high IQ, much of my angst was dismissed as feeling alienated amongst my peers. It was true that I never felt I belonged anywhere, but this still didn’t explain the elephant in the room. Finally, as a teen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My brain just didn’t produce enough serotonin to keep my emotions on an even keel. The doctor tried several medications until one finally smoothed over my emotional rough edges. Yet, some of my family and friends made me feel like a pariah because I needed medication to be “normal.”
Back then, even though Mental Health Awareness Month was around, mental illness wasn’t openly discussed as it should have. I remember whispered talk about my grandmother experiencing some depression, specifically with menopause. To quote her, “women just dealt with it.” And even when my own mother spiraled into a depressive abyss because of a pending divorce, all the talk was shameful murmurs. Why? I can’t imagine one person out there that hasn’t dealt with stress, anxiety, or depression in one form or another. Why are people that experience mental health issues seen as broken? Because of these kinds of attitudes, I kept my condition a secret for years. To be quite honest, I was in denial myself. I always felt this was a temporary thing. That I would just “get over it.” Somehow my brain would magically heal, and I would no longer need to supplement my brain’s serotonin.
It was only when the death of Robin Williams occurred did the MHA’s campaign for social acceptance gain any ground. In August 2014, Robin Williams committed suicide. He was always open about his lifelong battle with depression, but perhaps because he was a comedic genius, people chalked up his statements as dark humor. Nevertheless, his other bleak medical conditions pushed him over the edge causing him to take his own life. After the news spread, social media exploded, with many expressing their feelings and confessing their own mental statuses. I had already come to terms with my medical condition but actually hadn’t spoken to anyone other than my husband. Feeling it was time to step out of the shadows, I too declared my own battle. I’m not a freak or a weirdo, as some have been labeled. I have a medical condition, but it does not define me. I will continue to be open and honest about it and continue to educate others on mental health.
If you suspect you have a mental illness, check out MHA’s resources. If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or their online chat through their website.
Originally published May 16, 2017/Odyssey