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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Would you treat me differently? National Mental Health Awareness Month

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it's fitting that the subject be addressed in this blog.

According to a 2015 report from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Our best estimate of the number of adults with any diagnosable mental disorder within the past year is nearly 1 in 5, or roughly 43 million Americans.”1.

Equally important, the study goes on to say that “Although most of these conditions are not disabling, nearly 10 million American adults (1 in 25) have serious functional impairment due to a mental illness, such as a psychotic or serious mood or anxiety disorder.”2.

The entire study is a brief and engaging read in itself. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to read it. It's likely that whether you're diagnosed with a mental illness or not, you may better understand many of your coworkers, friends, and loved ones and they you.

Now that you know some of the numbers regarding mental illness, I'm compelled to ask: Would you think differently of me if I had a mental illness?

Well, the mere fact I'm compelled to ask you is a giveaway in that those afflicted with my particular disorder-Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD-are occasionally prone to impetuous and often unexpected behavior.

Remind you of anyone you know? Chances are, it does, and I'm not referring to a willful teenager, or a toddler working his way through the Terrible Twos, either.

Not to be condescending, but as an adult dealing with BPD, the analogy is a good one. Episodes must sometimes look to others as they feel to me-defiant outbursts often about nothing in particular, to no one in particular.

Though many who are diagnosed as mentally ill aren’t readily obvious to others nor functionally impaired by it, others are, albeit in varying degrees. Given that none of us wear neon signs on our foreheads flashing “BPD” or “Doctor” or “Valedictorian”, or whatever happens to identify us at a given moment, this applies to interactions between everyone.

Consider also that all three designations can easily apply to the same person; a doctor who was once a valedictorian may also be dealing with BPD.

Although I don't readily disclose my BPD to strangers, it's been my experience that most folks don't have the faintest idea what it is anyway.

The same is true of all mental illnesses and, therein lies the need for this article, and especially the need to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month.

So, whether or not we can readily identify each other as mentally ill, we all can access those resources that can lead us to a better understanding of each other.

For me, online forums addressing PTSD and BPD are places where I can vicariously hear and be heard by others dealing with similar challenges.

In fact, beyond brain injury and amputee social groups I enjoy in person, I've also come to know many of my online counterparts quite well. It's a big part of what makes our community so strong, and what gives us strength to carry on through our weakest moments.

Maybe it's because we've learned that discussing mental illness is a very touchy thing, and that we may have met with considerable guilt or shame about it long before a diagnosis could have happened.

Regardless, approaching the intimate subject of mental illness requires fortitude, something that can take time to build.

I've seen firsthand forum newcomers initially make a somewhat reserved, tentative introduction to a group then, eventually becoming fixtures on the site. I have been among them.

Today, my online participation is not as involved as it once was. I tend to check in weekly instead of daily. But it's not for lack of interest.

Rather, from my online interactions, I've gained the guts to step outside my door and partake more with my human counterparts. My online community, I know, will always be there, just as my human counterparts will.

In fact, much of the confidence I have in writing this article stems from the power I've drawn from the combination of the two. And that's where you come in.

So, when it comes to embracing the subject of mental illness and learning to live with it, all of us must learn to lead the way.

From the look of things in America now, one of us already is, and that's a good thing. Few people beyond the president have such visibility, and who better to be an ambassador on the subject of mental illness.

It shows how a person can rise to a point of prominence despite their affliction. Like so many health conditions, mental illness pays no heed to income status or social standing. And, while a mental illness can seem dormant for so long, even hidden for awhile, realty eventually asserts itself and the fact of the matter must be addressed.

When it comes to mental health, then, all of us enjoy a uniqueness. And that, like Mental Health Awareness Month, is something all of us can celebrate.

1., 2. Insel,Thomas, May 15, 2015. Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Mental Health Awareness Month: By the Numbers.

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