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Awareness Matters

october-national-depression-mental-health-screening-month[1]October is  important to me because it gives me a chance to play with zombies, clowns and broken dolls. Of the three, the only one that scares me are dolls clowns (ok, maybe clowndolls).

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But October is important for other (more important) reasons.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. There have been a lot of posts on social media sharing crisis hotline information, listing the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and advising us that depression isn’t always obvious.

Mental Health Awareness month is important to me because it has personal significance. I come from a long line of women who self medicate for depression, and I’ve shared stories of my battles with the Black Dog. It should be important for everyone.

We are suffering from a crisis. The World Health Organization states that “Around 450 million people currently suffer from (mental health issues), placing mental disorders amount the leading causes of ill-health an disability worldwide.” The article continues:

“Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.”

Even more alarming is the fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control data, the suicide for Americans aged 15-24 (aka Generation Z) is the highest it’s been since at least 1999. The overall suicide rate for this age group has risen by 51% over the past decade. We tell people that suicide is “selfish” instead of recognizing it as the last choice of someone who is in more pain than we can possibly imagine (full disclosure – I’ve been guilty of this one).

Mental Health issues are one of our remaining taboos. We suggest that people who are clinically depressed should avoid medication and tell them that they “just need to change their diet and exercise more.” We call them “Eeyore” and tell them they need to “buck up” and get out of the house.

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I came across a great article in (of all places) People magazine. PEOPLE magazine wants to change the stigma with their Let’s Talk About It initiative to normalize mental illness. In the article, Ashley Womble director of communications and crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line says that communication with friends and loved ones who are suffering is vital.

“Always ask!” she says. “If you’re concerned about a loved one, it’s important for you to tell them why and make it easier for them to ask for help or support. Suffering is hard enough. You can make it easier by starting the conversation.”

Most importantly, I think we need to stop judging people who struggle with mental illness and offer them sympathy instead. Maybe we should just stop judging people, period.

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If you or someone you love is having a mental health crisis, please reach out for help. NAMI has a downloadable guide for navigating a mental health crisis, and you can always call or text to speak to a trained professional.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.