“All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are.” – Robin Williams
What is your first reaction when someone talks about depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, suicide, or other mental health issues? Do you shift uneasily in your seat, tug at your collar, and find a way out of the conversation? Or do you lean in and want to know more so that you can be supportive and educated about the topic?
We need to get comfortable with mental health awareness and start talking about it. It’s not some taboo topic that we should be ashamed of mentioning. Mental health is a vital part of who we are and our well-being. Reaching out for a hand when we need a bit of help — and knowing the signs in others who need help — can not only boost our mental health, it can save lives.
When my former husband took his own life, no one saw it coming. And no one noticed the warning signs that led to a landslide in his mental health the month before his suicide. He hid his mental health issues so well that even the people closest to him never guessed what was happening. Not even me.
Sometimes I wonder if I had noticed the signs sooner — or if he had spoken up — maybe we could have gotten him to someone who could help. Instead, something in him snapped and he ended up walking down a dark and dangerous path. And he didn’t come back.
He put me and my family in tremendous danger and the fallout from his suicide was hard for me to bear. His family was devastated. Grief strangled us in myriad ways. When I thought I was finally healing and moving forward, PTSD from the life-threatening events I had survived reared its head. And that’s when I learned about grief, anxiety, depression, and what it’s like to not be in control of your own mind.
There were days I was ready to walk myself into the local ER because I was afraid I’d hurt myself. Let me be clear: I had no desire to die. I had fought so hard to survive those dark days and I wanted to live and thrive. But I couldn’t control the maelstrom in my mind, the swirl of grief and pain that overtook me. I needed help. I reached out to my doctor and an amazing counselor and together, they took my hand and got me back onto the right track.
That journey is not over for me. I doubt it will be for a long time. But I’m in a much better place than when it started, and I have amazing support to help me along the way.
When my mental health was suddenly on ice because of circumstances beyond my control, seeking help was the rope that pulled me back to safety. Even though it’s incredibly tough to talk about, maybe my sharing my story with you will help break the stigma of talking about mental health. Maybe it will help you or someone you love to find help when they need it most. We need to talk about mental health and remove the stigma of seeking help when it’s necessary. The cost if we don’t is too much to bear.
Remove the Stigma
When you or someone you love has a mental health issue, it’s not something that you or they can control. Depression is not just feeling sad. Anxiety is not feeling fidgety or nervous. Suicidal thoughts can scream so loudly that you’ll do anything to silence them — even if the solution is permanent.
Mental health is not a given. Not for you, not for me, not for our spouses, kids, or friends. While it is something that we strive for, and work toward having the best mental health that we can, sometimes circumstances in life cause that mental health to stagger. When that happens, we need to be supportive and encouraging rather than shy away from the issue.
We need to get rid of the stigma of mental health. It’s not something to be scared of, or ashamed of. It’s not something that makes us defective or a failure, or that should make us feel alone. And we need to encourage people to get help when they need it, to talk to someone when they are hurting. Often the people who are hurting the most are the ones who try their hardest to hide it. If we don’t shine light into the dark places, how will we ever help the ones who are stuck there?
Here are some things that you can do to raise awareness of how important mental health is, and to improve the health of yourself and others.
- Read up about mental health issues from reliable, scholarly sources. We often fear what we don’t know, and the best way to overcome any fear of mental health issues is to learn more about them.
- Discuss the topic of mental health with others. Post on social media about it. Ask discussion questions or take polls. Start the conversation and keep it going.
- Join support groups that help members improve mental health or champion mental health awareness in the community. Find ways to reach out to others in support.
- Take the time to do a self-assessment of where you are at in your mental health.
- Get some rest. Our mental health deteriorates when we are not getting adequate sleep and rest. Remember that sometimes rest is the best and most productive thing you can do.
- If you are struggling with a mental health issue, or suspect that you are, contact your primary care physician and start the conversation with them. They will provide resources to help.
- Get in touch with a qualified counselor who specializes in the area where you may be struggling. Many counselors have excellent wisdom and insight that will help you navigate your thoughts and feelings.
- Take a walk or get some exercise. Walking in particular creates a bilateral movement in your brain that helps you process thoughts, feelings, and events.
- Practice self-care.
- Talk with your pastor or church counselor.
- To maintain positive mental health, encourage friends and family. This might include a daily or weekly challenge, or a fun “create your own” mental health bingo that you play.
- Be supportive. If your friend or loved one is struggling with a mental health issue, be someone who will come alongside them and be a listening ear, even at two in the morning. (However, remember that the weight of their world can’t be carried on your shoulders and that diagnosing their problems should be left to a counselor.)
- Watch for warning signs. If you notice any of these warning signs of suicidal ideation, make sure that they are connected to help right away.
- Let them know they are loved and that they are not alone.
Here are a few resources for you to start. They are by no means the only resources available, but these I have found are a helpful place to start.
Emergency Medical Services – Dial 911
If you or someone you love is in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained counselors are available 24/7. Here’s how to get in touch:
Depression and Anxiety
PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you are struggling with PTSD, find a counselor in your area who specializes in EMDR. If you have complex trauma, seek out an EMDR certified counselor. You can search for one in your area at emdria.org.
Find a Counselor
Remember: You are beautiful and your life is so precious. God knew you inside and out before you were born, and what your life would be. He is already there ahead of you, reaching out a hand to carry you through every hill and valley. You are not alone; you are loved.
Ⓒ 2022, Lainey La Shay.