It’s May! And that means that it’s Mental Health Awareness Month! For those of my audience who have been around for a few years, you’ll remember that I’ve been on my own mental health journey for the last 10-ish years. It all seemed to really come to a head when I had my first child. There was no longer a way to pretend that my anxiety and depression didn’t exist. Not when another life depended on me being present in every moment. But also, in that moment, I began my advocacy journey towards spreading mental health awareness.
My mental health journey
While my advocacy journey started 10 years ago, my mental health journey started long before that. Prior to having my son 10 years ago, I had gone almost my entire life with undiagnosed depression and anxiety. My family suffered the traumatic loss of my grandfather when I was young. And, due to the circumstances surrounding his death, it sent me into a bit of a spiral. I have vivid memories as a child of not understanding how so many kids were happy when there were bad things happening in the world every day. If that doesn’t scream depression, I’m not sure what does.
My depression and anxiety manifested itself in many ways over my adolescence, but it ultimately became unmanageable when I became a mother. I remember going to both my OBGYN as well as my primary doctor, in tears, telling them both that I just couldn’t go on any further. I’m lucky to have had physicians who listened rather than write it off as ‘baby blues.’
My postpartum depression and anxiety worsened the second time around. There was a point, at my lowest, where I considered taking myself to the hospital and checking myself in. I tell this story regularly, because it was a pivotal moment in my mental health journey. At the time, I said this out loud to a friend. And she responded with the following: “Just know – that if you do that, they WILL admit you.” In that moment, I realized I was cognizant enough to understand that as much as I thought I wanted that; I realized that, deep down, I wanted to be present for my new baby.
But I also understood that there may be a time where I could have responded with “I know and I’m ready for that.” This realization came with a lot of shame. But it shouldn’t. And the only way we’re going to move past the stigma of mental illness and mental health is by talking about it, openly, with others. One in 7 women will develop postpartum depression after giving birth. It’s well past time that we start talking about it. The lives of mothers depend on it.
Why speaking about mental health is important
The way we ultimately lose people to mental illness is by refusing to talk about it. The stigma surrounding those of us with mental illness is astounding. We talk about mental health not being a “casserole illness”. Meaning, it’s not a broken leg, or a heart attack — which you can visibly see someone struggling from. No one thinks of bringing the person going through a severe depressive episode a meal.
But we should. And the only way we are going to get to where both types of ailments are on the same page is to talk about them the same way. Truly!
Our children aren’t immune
You would think that as an adult who suffered as a kid, I would understand exactly what it’s like to mother a child with mental illness. But I don’t. In fact, even as a mother, I’m not clinically trained to deal with children’s mental health issues.
Childhood is tough. And perhaps the saying ‘children are resilient’ should be retired. Because, are they really? Or does our ‘resiliency’ as children later manifest itself as unhealed trauma?
Mental Illness Risk Factors
Like most diseases, mental illness can be hereditary. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Ohioans struggling with mental illness. My dads side of the family has a history of mental illness, and now it’s a risk I’m passing on to my own children. But it doesn’t have to be something that is hidden. It’s important that we discuss family history of mental illness in the same ways we discuss family history of heart disease or diabetes. If you’re looking for more information on risk factors to mental illness, check out BeatTheStigma.org.
Resources You Need to Know
No one should have to go through mental illness alone. And, luckily, no one has to! You can visit FindTreatment.org for treatment options. You can also call the Ohio CareLine at 800-720-9616. If you’re in immediate danger and need a text resource, please text the mental health crisis line at 741741. Trained mental health professionals are standing by, day or night.
If you’re interested in taking a mental health screening, head here. You can find additional resources for children at OnOurSleeves.org.