Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals as well as the author.
The treatment of mental illness is very often forgone due to things like a lack of awareness, stoicism or stigma, and its prevalence in the United States is met with a significant lack of treatment. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, as around 20% of adults experience mental illness in a given year, only 41% of them received mental health services. And the effects of mental illness are substantial throughout one’s life time: adults with mental illness on average die 25 years earlier than most due very often to treatable medical conditions.
There is a lot to be said about causation when it comes to mental illness. Some studies point to the biological factor as playing a role, like one performed by the National Health Institute, which reveals a strong connection between a family history of mental illness and cognitive ability of children. Though there are others who point to a more environmental role. Both are likely right to a degree, but when it comes to the individual who is experiencing the distress that can be caused by mental illness it is the idea of allowing oneself to seek help that becomes pivotal to their future.
The Early Years
In my teenage years, I grew into a habit of not seeking help. Values of independence and resilience had long had its place among the men in my family, and generally I grew to expect a lot out of myself. This trait, however, became somewhat disadvantageous in the years following a foreclosure on my family’s home and the changer that came with it. Though I did not know it at the time, my mother was suffering from anxiety and depression which became exacerbated by the circumstances of the move. I have memories of her moving throughout the house like a ghost—numb, with little emotion in her eyes. With each passing year something continued to weigh on me. Finally, in high school, I began to exhibit serious symptoms of depression. Thoughts entered my mind that frightened me and which I kept hidden from my family. I grew to isolate myself and lost a desire for friends. After being admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital I tried therapy for the first time, but both my pride and distrust lead me to abandon it, and I entered into the hardest period of my life.
Years later, I decided one day that I needed help. I realized that pride was not a thing to let get in the way of my hope for a life not filled with misery. Step one was to begin looking for a therapist. The years following that moment have been a period of immense transformation. Beyond just therapy, it was the initiative of seeking to change for the better and of maintaining a better self which continues to fill my life with hope and appreciation. It was a transformation of who I was as a person and understanding who I wanted to be that continues to light the irrevocable path of meaning in my life.
Whether my mental came from my genes, from inheriting the ways in which my family dealt with their feelings, or the conflict that arose in my life, what was ultimately most important was coming to understand my own truth about my life and why it became so challenging. And though it was not easy—far from it—the humility and understanding that came with the active effort to grow despite occasional failure and hopelessness increasingly endowed me with the ability to overcome the impact of my depression, and to wake up every day fulfilled in the person I have become and am becoming.
To be continued…
Written by: Arthur Westbrook
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