When I first started this blog I wrote that one of the reasons that I wanted to be open about my depression, anxiety and alcoholism was to share my experience in a way that others who may be facing similar struggles may be able to relate to, learn from and get help for themselves. In the weeks and months since that I’ve heard from family, friends and strangers, encouraging me, letting me know that I’m not alone and that indeed, many of them have faced or are facing similar challenges. The blog lead to an interview with USA Today about how we talk about mental health. I was able to share personal victories and some low times. The blog, but more importantly the people reading and engaging with it, has been a huge part of my treatment. It allows me to vent, to weigh ideas and get feedback. It lets me share my struggle without the sometimes awkward conversations of one-on-one interactions.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.” While I’m not an expert on mental health policy, the latest treatment and medications available, etc. I can tell you that as someone who lives with depression, anxiety and alcoholism that the most important way I know of supporting the mental health of those you love is to remove the stigma from mental health.
The first step to removing the stigma is to eliminate the dichotomy that exists between mental health and physical health. If you had a friend or relative with a chronic issue like diabetes or asthma you would recognize that they had a treatable health condition. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc. are the same- all treatable health conditions. Would you tell someone having an asthma attack to buck up or to cheer up? Of course not. But when people suffer an anxiety attack or a depressive mood too often they often aren’t encouraged to seek medical help. A big part of this is being careful about how we talk about mental illness. When we talk about people with mental illness we should confront the issue head on, instead of tiptoeing around it. An alcoholic doesn’t have “demons,” they have a predisposition to abuse or an addiction to alcohol. If a loved one talks to you about depression or anxiety, they are talking to you about a health issue. To treat it they should seek help from health professionals.
The other major thing you can do is to be there for people. I have an aunt that I correspond with every few weeks or so via email and it’s nice to know that she’s thinking of me and taking the time to write. I have a friend who lives long distance, but makes an effort to get on the phone now and then and catch up. Another friend locally had the idea of a movie night, and of going to a play, things that mean a lot when your depression is easily triggered by loneliness. Believe me, I know that it can be difficult to talk to someone who is going through something that you’re not sure you can relate to or don’t know how to approach. But here’s the secret: You don’t need to dwell on what’s wrong. When my friend and I talk, he’ll ask how I’m doing, but the majority of our conversation is politics, movies, books we’re reading, etc. If you have someone close to you who may be going through something, reach out and talk to them, send an email or Facebook message about work, about Game of Thrones, the baseball playoffs (my Nats are out) or US policy in the Middle East. Just engage with them.
I know I’m marking this day by looking back on the good and the bad, but I also want it to be forward thinking. I’m feeling better than I have in awhile. I want to keep that up. I want to continue my sobriety. I’m looking forward to getting in better and better shape over the next few weeks and months. I want to do a little travelling and maybe see some friends I haven’t seen in a few months or a few years. I want to keep exploring meditation and mindfulness. I want to practice and develop my skills for managing my anxiety.
But most of all, I want to be around for World Mental Health Day 2015.