Mental health awareness is definitely something that is “trending” in our modern world. With hashtags like #endthestigma and #mentalhealthmatters we have seen a wave of understanding and awareness that surpasses what there was in decades past.
As I was pondering what to share to my Instagram to promote awareness, I realized I had a lot to say that can’t be shared in a simple story, post, or comment.
I thought about how much less of a stigma there is, but also how many people are completely unaware of how to recognize these signs in themselves and in other people.
So, it’s like we’re saying “anxiety and depression are real” and people believe that, but we aren’t fully aware of what that means.
Aware of the SEVERITY
Jeffrey R. Holland, member of the quorum of the twelve apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints, perfectly describes this in his talk “Like a Broken Vessel”:
“When I speak of this (mental illness), I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have…But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully,
…a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!”
Again, I actually think we have made great strides in realizing the severity of these mental illnesses. People realize it’s more than “being sad” or “being nervous”, for the most part.
But I’m nervous people are taking that to mean “oh, they are REALLY sad”, or, “they are REALLY nervous”. While those two statements may be true, there is a lot more than that to mental illness.
It is difficult to impossible to describe the pain of a mental illness to one who hasn’t experienced it for themselves, although Jeffrey R. Holland does a pretty fantastic job.
There is one thing that is safe to assume and believe. Believe it is an illness.
Believe it is a “Mental ILLNESS”
In my time struggling with anxiety and depression, I have asked for many priesthood blessings in times of great suffering. Now, generally before giving the blessing, the brother will ask, “is it a blessing of healing or a blessing of comfort?”
Many times I would shy away from this question, feeling embarrassed to say I was in need of anything but comfort, to admit that I was ill. That I was sick. That I was in need of healing powers.
But that’s exactly what I needed.
Taylor Paige Fluharty describes her experience in a viral Facebook post. She shares the following in response to her husband. Noticing she had been spending almost every waking hour in bed, he asks her, “are you sick?”.
“I wasn’t sick in the way he was thinking.
Yes, my body is weak. Yes, my eyes were probably sunken in. Yes, I had been sleeping an unusual amount.
“I’m not sick how you think,” I made out through the tears, “but please treat me like I am.” He immediately got it.
If you have a spouse, a friend, a daughter that has depression or another mental illness and you just don’t know what to do—treat them like they are sick. Because that’s exactly what they are.
Bring them food.
Make sure they stay hydrated.
Remind them it will be over soon.
Because just like the flu, this sickness will pass too.”
As Taylor portrays beautifully, those who suffer from anxiety and depression are generally not majorly anxious and depressed 365 days of the year. It comes in waves, and some days are better than others, and some weeks pass without any major problems.
Rather, they are hit with it hard for a week or two and after some time are able to come back to functioning through techniques that they have learned and natural healing that happens over time.
Other manifestations are being fully-functioning, but feeling extremely anxious or nervous in almost all daily activities. Many mask this well. It doesn’t always look like being in bed all day.
Aware of the DURATION
A common misconception is that mental illness is always something that you are either born with or develop at an early age and have for most of your life. This is the case for some people, but not all.
Just like the word “illness” implies, it is something that can be contracted, in a way, due to varying degrees of stress, overwhelm, or grief.
It can come to young teens navigating social, emotional, and academic challenges at a new school.
It can come to college students facing severe overwhelm with school, work, and making rent.
To recent mothers shouldering the responsibility of a new life.
To fathers who feel they aren’t measuring up to their role.
It can definitely come to the elderly, as their bodies change and age.
It can stay for a few weeks, months, or years.
One thing that stays the same, is when it hits, it hits hard.
No matter your age or circumstance, if you feel you are in need of emotional or mental help it will never hurt to go speak with your doctor, reach out to family and friends, and seek the treatment you need to be able to function fully again.
Elder Holland continues, “…If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.”
Aware of SIGNS & RESOURCES
The actions that should take place with this new knowledge are those of checking in with ourselves and our loved ones regularly. It is important to be aware of when our mental/emotional “fuel tank” is running low and recognize it happening in those we are close to.
Generally, it is pretty evident when a general sadness or general anxiousness has reached a level that requires medical attention, although often we are too prideful to admit it, but I have provided some resources with a list of signs something may be wrong.
There are many types of mental disorders so if you feel something is generally off, or wrong and has been for two weeks or more it may be time to visit with your doctor. They will be able to help you discern if there is an emotional disorder that needs treatment.
One thing to be aware of when speaking to your doctor is that only YOU know how you feel. Be extremely clear about what’s going on. They may want to assume your treatment without being fully aware of what’s going on. Some doctors are better listeners than others.
If you ever feel you or a loved one is in danger, please call 911.
Going Forward: Aware it can be Overcome
Although in many cases this is a lifetime battle, it is not in all cases. With proper treatment, including medication, therapy, and evolving techniques, often these illnesses can be treated and eventually overcome. If not fully, often partially, bringing someone back to a functioning level with bouts of anxiety or depression coming more and more infrequently.
Having said that, it is not a one-size fits all solution and often takes many months or years to find proper treatment. It took me 4-5 different medications to find my fit and the process of finding one is not fun, but it’s worth it. I promise.
The promising thing about finding these solutions, is that if/when it comes back, you know what can help and how to get out of it.
I hope we all continue to strive to understand the severity and complexity of mental illness. In a world where this is so prevalent and often misunderstood; when in doubt, be kind.
There is no one who couldn’t use a little more kindness in their lives.
That’s all for today, feel free to comment experiences or share this article with someone you love. Stay calm, guys. I love you!
*I do not claim to be a therapist, psychologist, or any type of medical professional.*