IF YOUR FRIEND was battling cancer, what would you do? Send an encouraging card? Deliver a meal? Offer a ride to the doctor’s office? Plan or support a fundraiser for her?
Now, what if that same friend was battling clinical depression? Would you do the same?
I’d like to hope we’d all answer “yes.” That we would respond in the same loving and supportive way whether someone was fighting cancer or dealing with a serious, debilitating mental illness.
But the truth is that most of us wouldn’t. And there are multiple reasons for our inaction. We are unaware. We don’t understand. We’re too uncomfortable. We’re at a loss as to what to do. We may even wonder why our friend can’t just get over it.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Yet, those struggling with serious mental health issues need our support, encouragement, understanding, compassion and love. They can’t simply wish away chemical imbalances in their brains. They can’t simply take a pill and magically return to good health. The struggle is real. As real as cancer.
I’m hopeful that an increasing focus on mental health, especially during the pandemic, will shift thinking and reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. That’s a start. But so much more needs to be done.
We need more mental health professionals. In my area of Minnesota, the wait to see a psychiatrist can be lengthy. Some doctors are not even taking new patients. Psychiatric care is limited, especially in areas outside the metro. That’s how bad it is. Imagine being in a mental health crisis, the equivalent of a heart attack, and being told you can’t get medical attention for six weeks? That’s reality for way too many people.
We need more funding for research that will lead to new, more effective medications or other treatments for mental illnesses.
We need early intervention. Education. Heightened awareness.
We need to move this beyond buzz words and hashtags. We need to stop throwing out offensive words like “crazy,” “insane,” or “nuts” when talking about mental illness or anything, really.
YOU CAN HELP
I recognize we as individuals hold little power over changing most of those problems. But we do have the ability to, on a very basic level, acknowledge and support those in our circle who are dealing with mental health issues. Send a card. Deliver a meal. Offer a ride. Listen. Give a financial gift—individuals and families in the throes of a mental health crisis often face overwhelming financial challenges. There’s so much we can do. If only we choose to take action.
FYI: May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource for information on mental health. If you or someone you love is in crisis, seek immediate medical attention in your emergency room. That’s a starting point. Above all, please know that help is available and that you are not alone. The same goes for those who care for and love family members struggling with mental health. NAMI offers confidential family support groups.
© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling