Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.


FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.


* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


29 Responses to “Opening up about mental health”

  1. Understanding, compassion and empathy are part of the solutions to this deep rooted social issue in our society.
    Depression often has deep roots and the answers are never easy or simple and often it is a illness that isn’t cured even if known. Courage is needed by all who speak out on this issue. Thank you for your article and sharing this story.

  2. Ruth Says:

    The stigma is real. I appreciate your blog post today, telling of Henry sharing about Lila. And your pastor, too. It is important to talk about and not dismiss. Thanks Audrey. I am going now to check out the two bloggers you mention.

    • Yes, the stigma is real. I am thankful for the ability and willingness now of many to speak out. I look back to PTSD and how long it took for us to recognize and talk about that. My dad, due to his war experiences in Korea, suffered from PTSD and went undiagnosed for decades. No one recognized it for what it was and expected these soldiers simply to meld back into life. It’s no different with depression, etc. I’m so glad we’ve finally reached a point of talking about mental health issues.

      Thank you for checking out the writing of Penny and Bob. You may have to poke around on their blogs to find stories on mental health issues. They write (especially Bob) about many other topics also.

      • Ruth Says:

        The link to Bob took me to MPR homepage so haven’t found his writing yet. I shared Penny’s on twitter and FB. My uncle suffered greatly from being a tail gunner in WW2 and died at 50 years of age , broken.

      • I’m sorry your uncle suffered so. Too many soldiers did.

        I wish there was an easy way to direct you to the posts Bob has written about mental health on his NewsCut blog. He writes on the topic occasionally. And when he does, it’s powerful.

      • Ruth Says:

        I’ll search for his writing

  3. Kiandra Judge Says:

    I admire your friend and pastor for being so open with their situation. My pastor did the same thing in one of his sermons and it meant a lot to me. I have had a history of depression and anxiety which was almost unbearable after our son was born with the post-partum depression I experienced. I too was hospitalized and after years of various medications, finally had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) which was a life saver for me. With the support of my awesome husband (who was my biggest advocate), the ECT, eating well and exercise, I am well! I am all for being open about mental health issues. This is nothing to be ashamed about and in my case, I needed extreme help to manage it. I tell anyone who asks me about it and the journey I went through. If I am able to help even one person or stop one mother with post-partum from feeling bad, then it’s worth sharing. Audrey, if you feel that sharing my story more will help, please feel free to share or if any of your readers have questions about ECT, that’s fine too.

    • Kiandra, thank you for sharing your story. This is what it takes to increase awareness and educate. I am grateful for the insights you share, the hope you offer and the desire to make a difference in helping others. Bless you and your supportive and loving husband. May you always see the light.

  4. This is a wonderful post, Audrey. Heartbreaking to talk about, but so important. Thank you for having the courage to write and post this. ❤

    • The courage is owned by Henry and Lila and my pastor (and Kiandra in the comments section). The courage is owned, too, by all who have battled and are battling mental health issues.

      That said, thank you for appreciating this post.

  5. I’m happy more people are going public with mental health issues. So many people struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and so many others. It makes it less isolating (and some feel shame in their diagnosis) for the people who do struggle and offers support to those who are living with loved ones struggling. In my opinion, in one way or another we are all the walking wounded. Kindness and understanding go a long way in healing.

    • Dawn, thank you for your observations. I am pleased we have such a good discussion going here in the comments section. I fully agree that we all struggle with something and that kindness and understanding are essential in healing.

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    This makes me remember a classmate of mine who after the birth of her third child, left the state planning to kill herself. Fortunately her husband located her and got her help. Turns out it was a hereditary mental condition that two uncles and a grandparent suffered from as well as one of her sisters – and because of the shame of it all, never discussed it with anyone! I have been open about my own struggles with depression, and I grew up in a home where suicide attempts were common. I learned years ago that my grandfather checked himself into mental hospitals in Missouri twice when my dad was just a little boy. Supposedly he was “visiting relatives” because it was too shameful to say he was in a hospital for mental illness. As families, we need to be open, and encourage getting help and offering support.

    Nature has been my biggest healer. Years ago I sought therapy, and now I’m more likely to pick up a good self-help book to help me through a particular struggle. But my work with nature and writing have become my best coping skills or outlets to maintain good mental health. Mental problems are bigger than we realize. Thank you for posting about this, Audrey. Already from the comments people are opening up and good discussion is taking place!

    • Thank you, Lori, for sharing your stories. These and the many others posted in the comments section, show me that this is one compassionate and caring readership. I am grateful to each of you for sharing your stories and the stories of those you love. I appreciate the specifics such as your writing about nature and writing as valuable ways to help you deal.

      I am thankful your classmate and others in her family, your grandpa and so many others have sought help. It truly takes a circle of loving and caring people to be there for one another, as I know you have been.

  7. I truly believe in opening up about mental health. Mental health is a part of the whole being health – mentally, emotionally, physically. I experience chronic pain and have had to learn how to manage the physical as well as the mental and emotional. Listening and understanding. Caring and compassion. Where I struggle at times is in how to talk about it since it has been a not talk about subject. It is about being aware and educating. I wonder if there is a graphic regarding mental health like you see for the signs one is having a stroke. It takes courage to speak up as well as ask for help and support from others. Great discussion post today – thanks for sharing and opening it up. Take Care

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, connecting physical issues to mental health issues. And thank you for being that voice, the voice that raises awareness, the voice that cares, the voice that supports and helps. I appreciate you. And I expect many others do, too.

    • I have been told I am an empath by a few health professionals. I try to see it as a positive and not a negative. My paternal grandmother was an empath too. I knew when she passed and she was miles away – we had a great link/connection with each other.

      • I had to google that word “empath” as I was unfamiliar with it although I certainly understand the definition of “empathy.” I think there are people (like you) who are naturally gifted in their ability to “read” others and to react with compassion and care.

  8. Joan Ignaszewski Says:

    Thank you. Mental health issues need to be discussed openly because so many times individuals & families are suffering.

  9. Mental health issues affect almost every family I would dare say. It is truly becoming easier to talk about it in many ways I think and that is such a great thing. It is so difficult to navigate the system to get help at times and I hope that that is changing a little bit over time. It’s just like with a physical problem – just needs the right diagnosis and treatment to help . Thanks for sharing.

  10. Valerie Says:

    Thank you for bringing this topic up on your blog. It is an important issue, and relevant to our times.

  11. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    It’s heartbreaking that sometimes a person struggles so silently alone that people are so surprised when they take their own lives to end the pain. People need to be more open to that kind of communication

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