First Hand Perspectives: Mental Health Awareness for the Other 11 Months of the Year

MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESSYesterday marked the last day of May and with it the final day of Mental Health Awareness month. And while I’m glad there’s a month for it, the reality is that folks struggling with, or affected by mental health issues, or mental illness, or heck, just the average day-to-day battle keep sane in today’s climate doesn’t just go away at the end of May.

One in five Americans is affected by a mental illness. That means at least 65 million people in the U.S. alone.

Mental Health consciousness might just be as simple as understanding that we need to take better care of ourselves, our stress levels, our minds, and being open to potential new aids like cannabis. This is actually a herbal remedy and it has been proven to be extremely effective in calming anxious thought processes, helping people who struggle with their mental health to find a little light. Click here to find out more.r some of us, it might mean that we’re working to break down the stigmas around a mental health issue we, or a loved one struggle with. Or there are some of us are just trying to survive.

I personally struggle with depression. For me it’s a malignant, heavy cloud equipped with tendrils that squirm their way into nearly every thought and effort. Sometimes it’s barely there, like a tiny, weak devil breathlessly whispering in my ear. I can easily conquer it. Sometimes it feels like it’s completely gone for good. Other times, the simple act of living hurts. My depression is categorized as mild to moderate. I rely on herbal remedies to get me through, a lot of the time, as without them the dark cloud can be a lot to bear. You can get info on what’s available in terms of these medications here if you want to.

Over the years, it’s given me a lot more empathy for others, but I still the rare occasion where I see someone struggling and think to myself how maybe they just need to get their shit together. This is bullshit, judgmental thinking (that I sometimes also apply to myself), and it isn’t what I really believe, it’s conditioning. And stigma.

And that’s what we’re looking to conquer.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about mental health–which in my opinion should just be called HEALTH. And mental illnesses should be treated just as consciously as broken arms, or cancer, or diabetes.

The thing is, symptoms are different for each one of us. Like a fucked-up, tailor-made gift to attack our minds in just the right way.

To make matters worse a treatment that worked for Jane might be worthless to Joan. And in our society, a lot of times Joan will get judged for that. Like she’s just irrefutably flawed, or worse–faking it.

I could go on and on, but instead I’ve collected some amazing writing on the facets of mental health and illness, organized by subject.

If you struggle, I hope these readings bring you hope, and confirmation that you’re not alone. If you don’t personally struggle with a mental illness or maintaining your mental health, I hope you’ll read some of these anyway, and wrap your own mind around the reality of others, and finally help us obliterate the stigma so we can all get the support and help we need.

Mental illness not a farce, or a situation where people just need to buck up and handle their business. The struggle is real. And the more we acknowledge that, the better we can help those of us who need it.

Obviously, this post isn’t meant to be the end-all-be-all, so please share other articles or resources that you’ve found. I received so many awesome suggestions for this post (and so many I hated to leave out) that I think I’ll have to do another post soon!

We’re in this together. Let’s help each other rise.

Here we go…

The Non-Simplicity of Mental Illness

by Laura Dattaro

When I sat in that chair as a terrified teenager, it meant everything to have someone with a degree legitimize my problem, as though my pain weren’t real until a professional deemed it so. As I slogged through treatment throughout my early 20s, receiving a more severe diagnosis felt like, if not quite a badge of honor, at least a recognition of time served. (“Everyone’s depressed,” I happily told one therapist after receiving a Bipolar II diagnosis, feeling I’d at last been marked a true sufferer.) Read on…

How Lady Gaga Helped Me Confront My Transgenerational Mental Health Trauma

by Brandi Neal

I’m sitting on the floor with my back against the bed and my head between my knees on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. In a few minutes a car will pick me up to take me to the Lady Gaga concert at the Forum in Los Angeles, and I don’t want to go. I can’t stop shaking. I pick up my phone several times to cancel, but it’s a writing assignment for work so I keep telling myself that everything is going to be fine even though I am going alone, I’ll be on the floor smashed into a crowd full of devout Little Monsters – an imposter among loyal super fans – and I have no idea what’s going to happen – all things that send me into an anxiety spiral. Read on…

PTSD Perspectives

I’m going to start with pieces that explore some of the toughest, resilient folks in society and how mental health issues persist, yes, even for them.

First, this article is the first in a series for The Guardian:

Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?

by Debbie Weingarten

The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans. A former farmer gives an insider’s perspective on farm life – and how to help

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995. Read on…

My client, ProPublica is doing an investigative series on PTSD in first responders. Learn more about it, and how you might help, here:

Help Us Investigate PTSD in First Responders

by Abe Aboraya

PTSD rates in first responders haven’t been studied at a national scale, but smaller studies of firefighters have found it to be anywhere between 6.5 percent and 37 percent. We know PTSD not only affects the first responder, but also those around them. Read on…

They’ve also done reporting on PTSD in violent neighborhoods:

The Best Reporting on PTSD in Children Exposed to Violence

by Lois Beckett

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder, they often focus on military veterans. But there’s growing evidence that PTSD is also a serious problem for American civilians, especially those exposed to violence in their own neighborhoods. Researchers in Atlanta found that 1 out of 3 inner-city residents they interviewed had experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives. Read on…

And writer Melissa Blake offers some first-hand insights:

How to Support a Loved One with PTSD?-?from Someone Who Has It

by Melissa Blake

When I was at my worst, there was one question that always made me feel better: “How are you feeling?”

It sounds simple, but to someone who’s grieving or struggling with PTSD, there’s something very powerful and comforting about this question. Read on…

Depression Perspectives

Giving Up Breastfeeding Made Me a Better Mom. Here’s Why

by Madeleine Deliee

I expected that pregnancy would change my body. I was prepared to give up alcohol, sushi, and high heels. I didn’t expect that I’d have to change my antidepressant. It felt like such a part of my daily existence, it never occurred to me that it would be another sacrifice to The Baby-until my doctor lowered the boom. I would have to drop the drug I’d taken for the past three years, the one that finally, finally worked to relieve the persistent depression I’d wrestled with intermittently throughout my life. Read on…

I Have Compassion For Everyone Struggling With Depression Except Me

by Erin Khar

If I were speaking to someone else who felt this way, I would say, “It’s okay. You can be 100% grateful for your life and still feel depressed. Depression is not a choice. Depression is a chronic mental illness, and it doesn’t make you bad or broken or selfish.”

And still, I struggle to believe that for myself. Read on…

It Isn’t That Shocking

by Leslie Kendall Dye

Just as a pacemaker supplies electricity to a faulty heart, an ECT machine offers a brief jolt to induce a seizure that, for reasons that remain mysterious, induces a healing response in the brains of many agitated people. I might call it a pacemaker for the soul. Some theorize that the brain goes into a kind of healing overdrive in response to the seizure; according to Tye, Columbia researchers have found that ECT stimulates the growth of new neurons. Read on…

Anxiety Perspectives

The Big Scare: My Anxiety Disorder Story

by Hannah R. Goodman

One of the things I really appreciate about this piece, in addition to the “what it’s like” component, is how Goodman explores the often shifting, changing nature of mental illness. For many of us, just when you think you have it figured out, it morphs into something else.

Depression and anxiety are in our genes. According to research, there is a thirty percent inheritability for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some folks are predisposed to this condition in the same way that they can be susceptible to Type 1 Diabetes. Read On..

How My Panicked Trip to the ER Exposed a Major Flaw in Mental Health Care

by Caroline Shannon-Karasik

She says that, because of a constant cultural reinforcement to “get over it” or to adopt an “other people have it worse” attitude, this stigma and lack of empathy continues to “create barriers in seeking emergency mental health attention.” Read on..

My Relationship Isn’t Doomed Because of My Mental Illness

by Gretchen Gales

To clarify, it’s not like we don’t want to “just relax” or shut down our anxious thoughts. We want to be able to live our lives without the constant “what ifs,” questioning our sanity and our ability to be loved. If you listen to us instead of being judgmental, we might have time to tell you that. But the more we are shut down, the more we will shut down. Read on…

Anxiety in Color

by Bryden Smith

Later, in the fall of 2015, after I graduated, I sat in a design classroom at CU Denver full of MacBooks and actual artists. They were working with ease through a Photoshop tutorial while I struggled. I stared at my blank screen. I looked at the others around me. I felt different.

You’re not good enough. Read on…

Postpartum/Parenting Perspectives

Teresa Twomey: On The Big Bad Wolf of Postpartum Mood Disorders

by Katherine Stone

Fortunately, there are “bricks” to build a house against the big bad wolf of postpartum psychosis. The first set of bricks the foundation, is knowledge of self. Read on…

On Being a Mother with Bi-Polar Disorder

by Carrie London

When people hear that I am a blogger, they always ask what I write about. This is a tricky question because I don’t actually know at any given time and so I usually just give a glazed over answer of “mothering with bipolar disorder”. If this doesn’t scare them away immediately, they might ask what IS it like to be a mother with bipolar disorder. Read on…

Lesser Explored Perspectives

What If: On Black Lives and Mental Health

by Jodi Savage

Having a serious mental illness is bad enough, but Being black in America, with a mental illness can be life-threatening.

When I think of Black Lives Matter, I think of my grandmother. Shortly after her seventieth birthday, she begins calling 911 in the middle of the night to report invisible squatters and the children they leave in her care. Although she is a black woman who was born in segregated Florida, she has always had a reverence for the police for as long as I can remember. “The cops used to ride behind me to make sure I got home safely,” she often tells me about her nightly walks home from work when she was just twelve years old. If there were a picture of the holy trinity, Granny’s would be a color portrait of Jesus, President Barack Obama, and a police officer. Read on…

Monsters in His Head

by Tanya Slavin

My six-year-old son Martin has Selective Mutism (SM), a rare childhood anxiety disorder that makes a child who is perfectly capable of speaking unable to speak in certain situations. At this time, Martin only speaks to family members and a few family friends. Read on…

I Tried Brow Wigs After Trichotillomania Led Me to Pull Out My Eyebrows

by Hannah Rimm

Trichotillomania (TTM or trich for short) is an impulse control disorder, which involves the recurrent and insatiable desire to pull out one’s own hair. For me, it manifests as a need to pull out my eyebrows with a lesser desire to pull out my eyelashes and body hair. It gets worse when I’m depressed and it soothes my anxiety and I’ve been searching for solutions for my completely non-existent brows for months. Read on…

I Survived Cancer. So Why Was I So Sad?

by Pam Parker

I’d been cancer-free for nine months when I found myself weeping over poorly made eggs-over-easy. The yolks were hard, instead of dripping and lovely and orange. Those rigid yolks were the proverbial last straw. I’d had cancer for God’s sakes, and I was crying over eggs? I was supposed to be a survivor. Read on…

Eating Disorders

When Anorexics Grow Up

by Lisa Fogarty

The aging anorexic doesn’t make for a compelling movie. Adults with the disorder aren’t represented in pop culture and news outlets, so I assumed we were either supposed to outgrow our eating disorders or die. Read on…

And finally, for those who want to write about their experiences…

How to Write About Your Disability

by Rebecca Swanson

Make someone cry. Show how mighty you are, because your disability has made you so. The more people you make cry, and the harder you make them cry, the mightier you are. The mightier you are, the more people will want to read and share your story.

No one wants to read about you if you aren’t mighty. Read on…

I hope you get a lot from these pieces. And again, please share your recommendations below.