Stamping Out The Stigma of Mental Illness

 

So, how are you feeling?

Fine?   No, I mean really.  How are you really?

It’s okay if the honest answer is a reluctantly uttered “Depressed.”

You’re not alone.

Feeling Depressed?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019.  That’s 51.5 million people, or 1 in 5 adults.

That’s before the pandemic hit.

Wanna bet that’s increased since Covid-19?

So yeah, you’re not alone.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there.  Out of those 51.5 million, only 45% sought help.   Less than half.

Those are the most recent statistics I could find.  Now I’m not trying to bring you down.  The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and those statistics show we’ve got a lot of work to do. 

When I look at those numbers, a question arises.  WHY?  Why do 55% of people with mental illness of some type fail to seek help?

Because there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness.  And people suffer because of it.

It’s Time To Stamp Out the Stigma!

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog.  I want to stamp out that stigma.  That means I have to speak out and tell my story, in the hope that it will bring understanding to others.  I’ve shared some of my story in a previous post, which you can read here:  http://livingthetransformedlife.com/i-sat-in-darkness.

Depression has been a big part of my life.  It probably goes back to childhood, though I didn’t consciously become aware of it until I hit adolescence.  Along with the depression came fear, because of an incident in my childhood that concerned my father.

I was one of those kids who were bullied, and because of the pain I often retreated into solitude.  I was a bookworm and often spent hours by myself reading (and imagining I was someone else).  I had a very active imagination because of this.

One Saturday when I was 8 or 9, Dad and I headed out for the barbershop.  I took a book along as usual and became totally immersed in the story.  Apparently my father started talking to me, but I was unaware.

Suddenly the car lurched to a stop.  My father ripped the book out of my hands and tossed it in the back seat, then grabbed me by the shoulders and began shaking me and screaming.  “You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said, have you?!  You’re always living in that fantasy world of yours!  You’d better snap out of it fast, or someday they’ll take you away and lock you up!”  He threw me back against the seat and pulled out into the traffic again.  We continued to the barbershop in silence.

This may seem like a minor event to you, but my father’s sudden rage terrified me.  When the depression gripped me a few years later, this scene came back to haunt me.  I had visions of being locked up in some institution, and I was frightened.  I felt I had to hide what I was going through so I could avoid that.

The Wrong Solution       

So I hid…for years.  I graduated from high school, then from college.  I married and began a teaching career.  The depression ebbed and flowed, but it was always there.  I was a Christian, but I never asked for help because I was afraid other Christians would see me as weak or lacking in faith.  The words of my father seemed to be a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled, adding to the fear I felt.

When I was 31 years old, my world fell apart.  We went through an ugly church split and I was fired from the school that the church operated.  I was given a few hours to vacate the property, and was not allowed to say goodbye to my students.  When I applied for unemployment compensation the church administrator challenged it and threatened to take me to court.  Triggered by all this turmoil, the depression roared out of control.  My wife begged me to seek help, but the fears kept me hiding for two more years.  A crisis in our marriage finally broke me, and I reached out to my pastor for help.  I began pastoral counseling, but still resisted going to a doctor and getting medication.  “What would people say if they knew?” I thought.

The counseling kept me going, but the depression was still there.  I was able to function but the effort drained me and I was always exhausted.  I found employment at another Christian school but kept my problems hidden, fearing that I would lose my job if anyone knew.  It was four more years before I finally sought medical help. 

Stepping Out Of The Shadows At Last

In 1989 I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), more commonly referred to as clinical depression.  My doctor put me on an antidepressant called Desipramine (which, by the way, is no longer used).  It helped a little but left me drymouthed and really wasn’t very effective.  I stayed on it for four years but became frustrated and stopped taking it.  I tried to go without medication for the next six years, but the depression worsened and again I went to my doctor.

This time he prescribed Prozac (also known as fluoxetine), which gave me no adverse side effects and has proven to be very effective for me.  It keeps me stabilized most of the time, which is a great relief.

Some people erroneously call antidepressants “happy pills.” which they are not.  Nor are they a cure-all; I still have occasional “slumps” when I feel as if there’s an electrical storm in my head and I get foggy-brained.  Usually a day of rest will put me on my feet again.

Now I regret the years that I hid, but my story is not unique.  The National Alliance on Mental Health has found that the average delay between the onset of symptoms and treatment is 11 years.  Eleven years!

That needs to change.  People aren’t ashamed to ask for help with their physical health.  No one needs to be ashamed to ask for help with their mental health, either.  It’s time to shatter the stigma.

One way to do that is to share our stories.

I’ve shared mine.  Who’s next?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Stamping Out The Stigma of Mental Illness”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Tim! I pray God uses it to help many people. I’ve noticed that some of the worst things I went through are what God used to help others when I shared my story.

    Reply
    • So true! I don’t know who said it, but I love the quote, “God makes your mess your message.”

      Reply

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