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Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to reflect

Individuals can take back their lives through our compassion and caring

All of us believe we can spot a person with mental health issues. We picture crazy Uncle Charlie who still wears his leisure suit from the ’70s, the cat lady who lives down the block, or the stranger who walks around town arguing with himself.

While these scenarios provide excellent stereotypes, they are far from the whole picture. Just as a painting says different thoughts to different people, mental health covers a spectrum of thoughts, behaviors, and expressions.

What about the family who has lost a beloved patriarch, the 22-year-old mother laying to rest her 2-day-old son, the person who has just been laid off and no longer has an income, or the everyday person who has just experienced the negative side of everyday life?

Our lives are a continuum of events that shape our mental health. Someone once asked me what percentage of people experience mental health issues in their lifetime. When I replied, “A rather large number,” my friend, (who is a psychiatrist), replied “One hundred percent.” In simple terms all of us experience mental health issues in our lifetimes. Every one of us.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May is a time to reflect. How we can respond in kindness and support for those of us experiencing the anguish and disruption of self brought on by this intrusion of stressors and trauma? How can we who are on the well side of the mental health continuum help those on the opposite side?

The damage to health and societal judgement so often associated with mental illness is and certainly should be avoidable. No one makes fun of a person with a heart condition, diabetes, or cancer. Why then does it often seem acceptable to mock, ridicule or bully people who are experiencing mental illness? Or, is that the issue? Why does the term “mental health” strike a different chord with us than the term “physical health?”

Allow me to share the experiences of three people. Names have been changed to protect these individuals’ identity.

Scenario one: Jasper. Jasper has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He lived in a two-bedroom apartment which was always cluttered with food wrappers, dirty dishes, and whatever he didn’t feel like throwing away. Jasper had no social interaction and would hide himself in his apartment. If Jasper ventured out, which was rare, he would often become disoriented. He frequently believed that every day things were being done just for him.

Jasper would occasionally get upset over the most trivial of things. On one occasion, he threw dishes away because they fell over.

Jasper engaged in compulsive behavior and had no real purpose in life. A quote from Jasper “I am nothing in a world of nothingness.”

Scenario two: Marie. Marie experienced the sudden loss of her husband. Marie was devastated. She found herself burdened with immediate concerns, as well as long-term uncertainties. Marie became numb and uninvolved. Every evening she cried herself to sleep.

Scenario three: Jade. Jade would find herself filled with self-doubt, and questioned her self-worth. She thought this was normal, and therefore kept her thoughts to herself. “There is no need to seek medical help,” she would assure herself. That was a thought she carried with herself until the dam broke and she borrowed a gun.

All three of these people were experiencing some elements of mental illness. It is so easy to identify Jasper as one of those people, but what about Marie and Jade? Yet, all three were in the same boat so to speak.

So, why have a Mental Health Awareness Month? Aren’t there “professionals” available to take care of “those people?” Well, there certainly are, and they do a fantastic job. However, in the words of John Lennon, ” I am he, as you are he, as you are me and we are all together.”

All of us together make all of us together. If all of us show intentional care, support, respect, and love for one another, we can truly reduce the damage done by one of us going through mental health issues alone.

Why awareness? Our law enforcement professionals deal with an average of seven people experiencing mental health issues per day.

Why awareness? I am aware of a provider within our community who place a small stone in a cloth bag for every threatened suicide that has been prevented. There are currently eighteen stones in that bag.

Why awareness? Jasper is now a junior at Iowa State. Marie is now director of a benevolence program. Jade now works as a peer support for a community action program.

All three of these individuals took back their lives through our compassion and caring.

So, now that we know why Mental Health Awareness is important, what do we do? Several actions can be taken. When one of us finds ourselves at the difficult end of the continuum we need to swallow our pride and admit that we need help. Then we must seek out that help finding someone who will listen and care.

When one of us finds ourselves at the positive end of the continuum then be the one who listens and cares about others.

All of us can be a friend, mentor, or a support. All of need to become involved in a supportive way of one another. Become involved in life wherever you find yourself on the continuum. Everyone has something to offer and receive.

All of us should give our best to see that not one of us ever feels neglected, unwanted, alone, frightened, or unloved. Remembering that in a moment our places on the continuum of mental health can change.

Let us all come together to take the CRAZY out of mental health!

Randy Hoover is the program coordinator at Freedom Pointe.