No one really plans to deal with mental health issues. Sometimes they are preceded by warning signs, but often, the symptoms just seem to crop up out of nowhere. They can be rooted in an underlying genetic predisposition or triggered by unforeseen circumstances (such as a car accident or a house fire), or a combination of both. Sometimes events in the news can affect our well being, even if they don’t affect us directly.
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic created emotional trauma and unrest around the globe unlike anything most of us had seen before. Before that, the 2016 presidential election caused an uptick in mental disorders, according to STAT, a national health, science, and medical publication that published an article before the election noting:
“Mental health professionals say this year’s campaign has brought a marked increase in patients presenting with anxiety and other disorders, like OCD, avoidance, sleep disruption, irritability, drinking problems, and depression.”
No matter the cause, mental health issues can range from inconvenient to devastating for everyone in their path.
It is a bit foolhardy of us to think we won’t be touched by a mental health concern in some way. Not only do many of us have elderly parents, but half of our 8-15 year-old children will receive mental health services in a given year. And, now, life itself has never been more stressful and unpredictable. Sure, we don’t have to worry about being attacked by a wild boar while harvesting our crops like our ancestors, but we do have to worry about modern issues that they never faced, such as identity theft, gridlocked traffic, computer viruses, and 401(k)s, to name a few.
Given that nearly one in five adults in the U.S. – more than 43 million people – experiences mental illness in a given year, ignorance of the problem is only going to be blissful for so long. In fact, failing to address what might appear to be relatively minor stressors and anguish can lead to real, major behavioral challenges, such as anxiety or depression. Unrelenting angst or hopelessness should be treated with the same urgency as one might treat an anxiety or panic attack. Ignoring mental health issues does not make them go away, it compounds them.
You may be a caretaker who has tried many approaches to obtaining mental and/or physical support, but who still feels ill-equipped to handle the situation. You may be frustrated and resentful after exhaustively searching for resources for a loved one. It’s not easy.
Everyone endures some kind of challenge at some point in their life. It is only by recognizing the commonality of life’s challenges that we will be able to help those in need, without judgment or stigma.
The goal of this article is to encourage people to discover the many health services available and find ways to access them. For many, the scope of available health services can be overwhelming (What kind of care is needed? Is there a specialist required?); the process can be frustrating (Do I need a referral? Which provider is on our insurance plan?); and the unknown terrifying (How are we going to pay for it? Do we have prescription drug coverage?). Trying to make all the parts work together can understandably provoke a lot of anxiety.
This article reflects the compassion I have for people experiencing the major life challenge of helping a loved one who is suffering from mental illness or undergoing a significant life change. My book, From Hopeless to Helpful, is coming out in the near future and will help guide families and caregivers through a process that I have experienced personally and navigated professionally for decades. And regardless of your situation’s severity, the basic concepts are the same: take care of yourself, enjoy the little victories, seek professional help, and find creative ways to return meaning into your loved one’s life.
Remember, don’t lose hope, and never give up.