Letter to the Editor

Mental Health Awareness Month

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The "merry, merry" month of May is a glorious month in many ways! Each May, we celebrate and enjoy beef, hamburgers and strawberries. One of its weeks is set aside for honoring nurses and nursing homes. There is a day to honor teachers, and the whole month offers chances to show appreciation for school boards. We celebrate motherhood on the second Sunday, and we honor those who served our country in war time by setting aside the fourth weekend to recall their sacrifices. But in my book, the best way to enjoy the month of May is to spend the entire month observing Mental Health Awareness. We can all agree that if we have our health, we have a great deal. And if we enjoy good mental health, we really have much to celebrate. But do we celebrate as we should?

Mental health is not something we can afford to take for granted. It is not something all are able to enjoy. What if your mental health is compromised by a mental health disorder? No big deal, you say? Try enjoying the blessings of nature when you are depressed and feel so bad death is an oft-considered option. What if you are anxious about most things, worry about many possibilities, and have tremendous difficulty making what we might term ordinary, everyday choices such as what to wear, how to spend time, whether to go outside and face the world you get the picture. "Experts" who study these matters tell us only 17% of our population enjoys good mental health that's less than one in five of us! That's something to ponder.

Whether the mental health problem is diagnosed by a professional, or endured in silence and without the assistance of medicine or therapy, it is no fun whatsoever. And one in five of us live with such conditions, and only one in ten get the professional help they need. This is a problem of epic proportion, and only recently have we, as a culture, begun to treat people with mental health disorders in a civil, respectful manner. Too often they are stigmatized, shunned, left out, misunderstood, and blamed for "being out of the mainstream" through no fault of their own.

One of the greatest disservices we do, when it comes to those who do not enjoy good mental health, is to treat the situation with silence like we fear we might catch it, or contract it. We avoid discussions about keeping ourselves mentally healthy. We are at a loss as to how to speak with someone who has a mental health problem. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and Make It OK.org have resources, ideas and practical help for starting the conversation. We can learn the words and sentences that encourage, help and demonstrate caring. It isn't as difficult as you might think. Even I, someone with few computer skills, can google the two sites just mentioned, and find a wealth of helpful information. Give it a try. You'll be glad you did, and so will those who struggle, along with those trying to make their lives more fulfilling.

Bill Kersting, Spencer