I had begun to think that the stigma around mental illness was slowly disappearing, that is, until this year. Over the course of my time in college I've become more vocal about the issue of mental health and my own battle with anxiety and depression. The more I've discussed the topic, the more I've had acquaintances and friends reach out and say to me "thank God I'm not the only one dealing with this." I kept talking about it, exposing myself to others in hopes that it would bring healing, and then, eventually was met with opposition and fear. So as much as I feel like it is and will continue to be a part of my call to discuss mental health, especially in the context of the Church, I have been a little bit quiet on this front as of late. For that, I apologize. I'm realizing that the only thing we can do to combat this stigma is to continue to share our stories, become educated, and educate one another.
It took being in a psychology class and learning about my brain for me to realize I needed to seek the help of a counselor. I don't remember a specific defining moment, but I know that week after week, I began to realize that what I was dealing with was something outside of my control. I prayed and asked God to take away my mental illness. Nothing changed. I confessed my struggles to close friends and family, which was incredibly freeing for me. They were kind and understanding, but still nothing changed. So I finally made appointments with a counselor and a psychiatrist.
Here I am five years into counseling and treatment. Things have definitely changed and improved at times. But if I'm being entirely honest, it's not like my mental illness has gone away. It's still here, just as present as ever, but I've learned how to cope with it better. I've learned that it will probably always be a part of my life, but the real task is to not let it be a driving force. That's much easier said than done and I'm not sure that it's even possible in some cases. Needless to say, I'm not entirely in the clear, but life has gotten MUCH, much better since those days I spent sitting in psychology class pondering the matters of my own brain.
Being that it's National Suicide Prevention Week, I've been thinking a lot about those have dealt with and continue to deal with suicidal thoughts. I've been there, I've known folks who have been there, and folks who are there now. Because I'm not a mental health professional, I'm not going to spend much time writing about what to do if you find yourself having these thoughts, but I will recommend a really great resource, because it has been helpful for me and for many.
Do me a favor. Stop right now and put this number into your phone. Share it on social media. Write it on a sticky note. (It doesn't matter if you've never been depressed in your life. Go ahead, put it in your phone. Share it. Write it down.)
If you or someone you know is dealing with a mental health related crisis, you can call this lifeline anytime day or night and you'll be connected with a counselor in your area. I've called for myself a couple of times and they simply listened and made sure I was safe. It was comforting and what I needed at the moment. (In other words: Unless you're in imminent danger, they're not going to pull up to your house and take you away to the hospital. So no need to worry.) Every time I've had a friend confide in me that they were depressed or had considered harming themselves, I called the lifeline after the fact (even when I was 90% sure I did all that needed to be done) just to get the perspective of a mental health professional. I highly recommend calling, even if you think you don't need to. When it comes to things like mental illness it's ALWAYS better to err on the side of caution.
I write all of this hoping that for someone, my speaking up about all of this will make a difference. So if you were waiting for a little push before you reach out for help, consider this that push. If you have folks in your life who you know are dealing with mental illness of any sort, make an effort to reach out to them and check in every now and then. Whenever they cross your mind, send a text, write an email, or send them a card. Drop a line. Let them know that you love them and are thinking of them. If you have to, schedule a reminder in your phone to reach out to whoever that person may be.
Lastly-- consider this a friendly reminder that mental illness is not a result of a lack of faith, nor is it an excuse to discriminate against someone. Be kind to one another and if all of this outside your realm of understanding, ask someone who is knowledgable to teach you, check out a book from the library, and listen to those in your life who deal with mental illness on a day-to-day basis.
Grace and peace, friends.