Count on me through thick and thin / A friendship that will never end
When you are weak, I will be strong / Helping you to carry on
Call on me, I will be there, don't be afraid /Please believe me when I say, count on, You can count on me
Whitney Houston, Bebe & CeCe Winans
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It still baffles me that I didn't even know mental health had its own month until May 2015 when, ironically enough, I was in-patient at a hospital for mental health treatment. I have had a diagnosed mental illness for the last 17+ years of my 32 years of life, and this May will be my second time actively participating in this awareness month.
Why would a whole month need to be dedicated to mental health? I would venture to say it's because despite the astronomical numbers of people in America living with a mental illness, the stigma towards it is still quite rampant. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 44 million adults in America will experience a mental illness in a given year. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, while three-quarters of all chronic mental illnesses begins by the age of 24. Almost 7% of American adults live with major depression while about 18% of American adults live with an anxiety disorder.
There is a very high likelihood that you know someone who has a mental illness. The challenge is that you may not know they have it because they are either scared to talk about it or they may be living a highly functional life and have been able to find ways to manage their illness. You see, people with mental illness are not necessarily as portrayed in the media and pop culture. We are more likely to be the victims of crime and abuse than to be the aggressor. We have families, jobs, friends, goals and dreams. We really are no different than the average Joe - we just have a little harder time sometimes because of an illness that should be treated no different than a physical illness.
If you are reading this and you are one that has a mental illness, hear this: you are not a slave or a victim to your diagnosis. Life might be a little more difficult at times because of your illness. You might need to change your lifestyle a little bit to be set up for success in life despite your diagnosis. You may need to change your eating and sleeping habits, the people you allow in your life, incorporate medication, therapy, and stress management, and find out the triggers that make you more susceptible to the symptoms of your illness. You are not a failure. You did not do anything wrong nor are you a bad person. You did not cause your diagnosis. You do not get to choose having a mental illness. You do, however, get to choose how you treat it and cope with it.
Fellow mental health warriors and those who love us, it is only when we treat mental illnesses the same as physical illnesses that we will truly make more progress in fighting stigma. Let's keep the conversations going, check in with our loved ones and ourselves, and let each other know that we are in this together. We all need each other. Find those in your life that will truly say and mean "Count on me through thick and thin." You are worth it to be surrounded by those who love and care for you in sickness and in health.
If you are in need of support, please click the RESOURCES link in the menu. I have provided many links to mental health organizations and supports to get you started!