Imagine for a moment a disease that affected almost 20% of the US population, yet individuals with this disease were so ashamed and afraid of what their family & friends might think, that they kept their diagnosis secret. Imagine there were thousands of people with this illness, afraid to ask for help, or unable to afford treatment. Imagine there were people in this country who believed this disease didn't even exist and shamed those who were public about their illness.
Sadly, all of the above statements are true. I am talking, of course, about mental illness.
Here are some eye-opening stats from the National Institute of Mental Health:
17.9% of U.S. Adults had a diagnosed mental illness (2015 data)
46.3% of all U.S. 13-18 year olds suffered from a mental disorder at some point (2010 data)
Anxiety disorders (including PTSD, OCD & phobias) are the most common mental disorders experienced by Americans (2005 data)
DOJ data from 2002 shows that 64.2% of inmates in local jails met the criteria for having a mental health problem in the last year
In 2015, there were twice as many suicides in the U.S. (44,193) as there were homicides (17,793)
Conservative estimates of the total costs associated with serious mental illness in the U.S. are in excess of $300 billion per year
While these numbers are staggering in and of themselves, the total costs and prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. is probably much higher, considering the stigma around mental disorders.
To Break the Stigma, NAMI encourages you to learn more, speak out, spread awareness, and provide support & understanding for every person who experiences mental illness.
A great first step is to commit to being StigmaFree.
For me, that starts with publicly acknowledging that I, like many of my friends, family, and co-workers, live with a mental illness.
Wow. The fact that it took me five minutes to decide how to word that sentence is telling.
Why do I feel so uncomfortable - ashamed, even - sharing that information with you? I have always been supportive of those with mental illness, but it's easier when you can distance yourself from the disease. I like & follow NAMI and share info on the Out of the Darkness Walks. I love a friend's post when she honestly shares how anxiety affects her daily life. I donate to a cause, I refer someone to Zumbro Valley Health Center, but when it comes to acknowledging my own struggles with mental illness, my heart starts racing.
That's likely a symptom of the anxiety I live with, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier to admit.
"I live with a mental illness."
As a teenager, I experienced what I thought was typical mood swings, depression, and anxiety. As I struggled in the adult world, I realized that those things never really went away. For years I saw my inability to get out of bed and enjoy my life as a result of being lazy - something that I could fix on my own, if only I tried hard enough. In my adult life, those fleeting thoughts of "no one cares" or "why bother" - which, as a teenager, had inspired creative, if not dark, poetry - now left me unable to take risks and follow through on projects. The stress of life during grad school had me wondering what the point of it all was.. Anxiety kept me up all night. I turned a worrisome event over and over in my mind. Telling me to "get over it" made it worse. Why couldn't I get over it?? There must be something wrong with me. And back to the depression.
As the years wore on, I slowly came to the realization that there were a lot of people out there suffering from the same debilitating thoughts. I learned that there was a strong history of mental illness on both sides of my family. Most of all, I was able to break free of the feeling that what I was experiencing wasn't a moral, physical, or mental failing and I finally sought help.
"Most of all, I was able to break free of the feeling that what I was experiencing wasn't a moral, physical, or mental failing.."
It took several years and two different tries to get to the point where I actually was comfortable with the thought of managing my mood & anxiety with medication. Through trial and error, my doctor and I finally found a combination of drugs that didn't give me horrible side-effects and actually worked.
It was around this time that I took up running. This is probably one of those chicken or the egg situations. Did I decide to start running because I was taking medication? Did the running help the medication to work? It's hard to say. All I know is that even with my condition managed with medication, I still need a little extra help.
It's clear to me that running helps my mental health. It helps with my anxiety as it gives me a way to work out those racing, obsessive thoughts. It boosts my mood and helps me manage my depression without upping my medication. Running has given me more energy, an excuse to get out of bed and enjoy the fresh air, and it has made me more comfortable and confident in my own skin. For me it might be a bit of a stretch to say running saved my life, but I know several people for who this is absolutely true.
For me, a combination of medication and exercise keeps me happy, healthy, and focused.
As the owner of TerraLoco, the health & wellness of our community is my number one priority. In the last month, I've been focusing my thoughts on this so I can make better decisions about what initiatives & organizations we support through our charitable giving. I am looking forward to community partnerships & other initiatives that we can support to focus on the mental aspect of health.
"The health & wellness of our community is my number one priority."