I became aware a few days ago that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As the blogger said who mentioned this, it should more aptly be called Mental Illness Awareness Month. What other disease does not call it that? It is always ‘Cancer or Heart or M.S. or Diabetes…Awareness.
If the point is to make people aware of mental health/illness, then some of the mental disorders should also be made….from depression to Bi-Polar, to Eating, to Schizophrenia, to the many other diseases that affect the brain and our thoughts.
There is definitely a stigma applied from a great deal of the population towards those with any of these diseases. People often don’t know how to react or to be a friend to these people.
My mental disorder carried the name depression. I think even when I was quite young…pre-teen, when I first experienced symptoms that are associated with depression. I remember different times just thinking of being too different from everyone else that I went to school with or knew, who were my age. There was a sadness about and around me a lot of times. It’s not that I didn’t also have some good times, but the problem is that I can’t remember them. I do remember praying, while not in the normal sense I suppose, of just not wanting to be here anymore. My family life was very unstable, because my mother was by the time that I was born, on her own. My father had been ‘home’ with the other 9 of my siblings but he had a problem with alcohol, and also a gambling addiction. So basically my mother could not count on him for support.
So, my mother had to support those of us who were left in the home at the time I was born, totally on her own. We moved much, and I did not have time to make friends before we would have to move yet again.
I did eventually finish my Grade 10 and was working by the time I was 16. That was another stress for me because I had been overly protected by my mother, and here I was in the ‘big wide world’. During my 15th year I met and then at 18 married my husband, and within 4 months was expecting our first child. That’s all that I had dreamed of, was getting married and having children who would be raised in a secure environment, different from my own. Anyway, not to get off topic but just to say that we had 2 more children by the time I was 24, and my life was a whirlwind the like of which I couldn’t even begin to know.
In any case the years to follow brought a lot of change and responsibilities. I began suffering from periods of depression to a greater degree than before, in my 20’s. While we managed to work and raise our children together, my times became more frequent and persisted longer. I went to doctors and psychiatrists and they said I had what was called clinical/reactive depression and put me on a myriad of medications trying to find the right one and dosage. When I was in my 30’s I suffered probably the worst and most serious episode. Medications weren’t working, nor the therapy. I was at the point and in fact did try to take my own life, unsuccessfully. At this time my doctors wanted me to take what is called ECT treatment. My family for the most part objected to me doing this, but my husband and I decided to because I saw no hope whatsoever of continuing on as I was. My doctors suggested only 3 treatments and I did. While I cannot say that I wanted to go to this extreme, in retrospect perhaps for that time being it did save my life. It was however only a temporary ‘fix’.
For many years the depression remained as a constant companion, although work and living our busy lives continued. My family got used to the fact that I had this issue and adjusted, at least to the best of their ability. I continued to go to doctors, psychiatrists and then therapists. There was always the medication dosage and kinds adjusted many times and the hospital stays at the worst times.
If all seems woe, our move to a small town when my husband retired brought hope for the future for the first time. It did not happen overnight and there were many relapses over the period of about 9 years. However, during this time I became familiar through my doctor, who was just starting to practice it….with cognitive therapy. She asked me if I would be interested, and I said yes.
The concept of it was that while it was important to look at the past in terms of the depression and what caused it, this new therapy was more concerned with the present. My doctor had me looking at how I viewed the world and how my thoughts could be flawed in my thinking. She affirmed what I was feeling, but challenged me to alter them somewhat. Each week I would fill out a sheet of how I felt in different areas of my life and we would talk about them. Also I would keep a journal and think of things that I had to be grateful for. Also I would write letters to myself challenging the negative thoughts that would come to mind. I cannot do justice to what cognitive therapy is all about in a few sentences. So I’ll leave it there.
Having said all of this, I must say that when one has clinical depression, it likely is going to entail medications, perhaps in most cases for life. There are changes within the brain because there are chemical imbalances that do affect our thinking.
After saying that, I must add that just this year I took the last of my anti-depressants. I have waited until pretty well the end of the blog to say that my greatest medicine was God. He was there with me through all the years of depression while some days I didn’t believe it. I thought that he could heal me ‘instantly’ if He chose to do so, but for His own reasons that only He knew there were things in my life that I didn’t know that were ahead and I must go through. But in the end, His glory would be revealed.
For all intents and purposes I should still be on medication, but the grace by of God I’m not. Perhaps because I am in a better place right now in my life, or by God’s design.
In closing, though I have written a previous blog on the subject of what not to do or say to someone suffering from mental diseases or disorders, do not say they don’t have a reason for their illness…do not say “snap out of it”….do not stigmatize them..do let them talk about it if they so choose and try to be supportive of them and affirm their good qualities. Give a shoulder to cry on if that’s what they need, or to go out and have a coffee. Do whatever you can to try to help them feel good about themselves and give them hope, and not feel like an outcast of society. We are God’s ambassadors.