Mental Health America is a nationwide community based organization which has promoted mental health since 1909. Mental Health America and its affiliates have observed the month of May as being mental health awareness month for 65 years. This year's theme is "Mind Your Health" which correlates the importance of one's mental health to one's overall health.
I am embarrassed to say that I never heard of Mental Health America or Mental Health Awareness month. I have heard of Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer awareness, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Epilepsy Foundation, to name a few organizations but not this one. While I am totally amazed by the number of all health related issues that are celebrated by a corresponding month, day, or week (Healthline) I am, at the same time, saddened because there are many other health problems which are not in the forefront like cancer is but just as important. Why then do some "diseases" get more media play than others? The answer is simple and distressing at the same time.
Some diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, have more mass appeal, especially when it comes to funding. Mental health issues account for more disability in America than cancer and heart disease, however, mental health receives less overall funding and media attention. To prove my point, when was the last time you heard on the news about the latest efforts and studies to reduce the risk for depression or anxiety yet we hear all the time how to reduce our risk for cancer and heart disease. Yes, cancer and heart disease kills--so does depression. Over 1,000,000 people worldwide die yearly from suicide.
Like any other illness, mental illness also has various degrees of disability associated with it. The biggest difference between mental disorders versus other diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis, is the stigma that is linked with mental illness. While this stigma is lessening, it sadly still exists. Because of this, the number of under diagnosed people with mental health difficulties continues to grow because either their healthcare provider does not ask a patient about it, a patient is afraid to admit that they may suffer from it, or they are unable to get access to it.
I do ask my patients on a regular basis if they have any issues including depression or anxiety, I hope your health care provider does too. If not and you are finding yourself struggling with your mental health well-being, go see your provider. There is help out there, do not allow your fear to stop you because the faster you get help, the quicker you will get better.
One barrier to why some people don't seek psychological help is because they do not want to be put on medication. This may come to a surprise to you, but many can be treated with just psychotherapy alone by a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or mental health counselor. There are times, however, when medication is needed but this does not mean you are a weak person.
When I have to put a patient on an antidepressant/anxiety medication, this is what I tell my patients. "If you are diabetic and your pancreas is not putting out enough insulin you are okay with taking the diabetic medication. Taking a medication for your depression/anxiety is no different except that it is your brain that has a chemical imbalance. This does not mean you will need it your whole life, let's give it a try and see how you are doing. If this medication makes you feel better, isn't it worth trying?"
My mission today is to help promote Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing my story with you. I have always been viewed by others as a strong person both physically and psychologically, someone who finds humor in everything, a person who can handle any crisis that comes her way, one who can be count on for advice, encouragement, and support. I am also fragile. Between being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis and living with its daily struggles, having kidney cancer (in remission now) and then Crohn's disease was not only overwhelming but also became heavy bricks on my mental health; how could they not.
Admitting to myself that I needed help and making my first appointment with a psychologist was the best decision I had made for myself. I started seeing my psychologist a few years ago--she was my life saver then and continues to play an important role not only in my mental health well-being, but in my overall health today. I can tell you first hand that therapy has made a huge difference in my life and has helped me cope with my daily struggles. I still have some bad days, who doesn't, but my good days far outnumber my bad days--can you say the same?
Trust me, I wish I had started therapy sooner but at least I made the leap to help myself. Please, if you or someone you know suffers from any mental health issue, don't hesitate to seek help, I am the perfect example why it is well worth it.
I want to leave you with a thought. You know the saying, "you can never judge a book by its cover", think about that when you see someone who seems to have it all together. You may be surprised to learn that they may just be wearing the same book cover I wear.
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