It's #MentalHealthAwareness month. Here are the five most important things I've learned.
1. We are all along a continuum of mental health from wellness to illness. Throw in enough trauma and any one of us could be suffering from anxiety or depression. A predisposition or family history of mental illness means you may have inherited a gun that is already loaded-- but your genes don't determine your destiny, you do.
2. We can minimize our risk for mental illness by adopting habits that also improve our overall well-being; mindfulness, yoga, exercise, good relationships, good nutrition, adequate sleep, minimizing stress. Did I mention music, mindfulness and owning a pet? Yes. There's good medicine beyond the pharmacy AND pharmaceuticals can be extremely helpful if they are used as a screwdriver, not as a jackhammer.
3. Recovery is possible. Hope and optimism may be hard to find when you or your family member is in crisis. Don't panic. Do your research to find the groups advocating for an integrated approach to recovery. Join NAMI or Mental Health America It's free.
The people there will help you understand that what you are experiencing is more common than we admit: One in five people will suffer from a serious mental illness.
4. The biggest secret is this: Recovery is possible. Managing a mental illness is common. People at your work and church and health club who have gone through a similar crisis may not advertise it, but many of them are now living well with a mental illness. They are showing up to work, raising a family, kissing their kids and grandkids and silently saying, "Thank God I made it through that dark time." It's just like millions of Americans managing diabetes and high blood pressure. The brain is just another organ in our body. It gets sick. It can get better.
5. I believe that banishing the stigma around mental illness is the most important civil rights issue of our time. Shame and silence won't improve access to care or improve the quality of care. You know what makes a difference? Finding your voice. Calling your representative and saying, "I'm loud. I'm proud. And I want your help. Pass meaningful mental health care reform or my vote goes to someone who gives a damn."