October 3, 2011

Why doesn't mental illness have a color?

When I strolled down the driveway this morning to pick up mynewspaper, I was surprised. Surprised because it (my newspaper, not the driveway) was pink.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the state’s largestnewspaper was pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a goodthing. The paper was chock full of stories about cancer survivors, cancerresearch, cancer prevention and more.

But it got me to thinking. How many people have a clue thatOct. 3-8 is also Mental Illness Awareness Week? How many blue newspapers were published today in honor of the week? Probably not many.

While cancer gets the headlines, mental illness is every bitas much of a public health crisis. Only it’s a silent killer. The stigma aroundsuicide, depression and other mental illnesses is so great that I’m too much ofa chicken to publish this blog under my real name.

That’s sad.

So in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I thought I’ddo my part. Hereis a brochure from the National Alliance on Mental Illness on depression that might help you.

Major Depressive Disorder has been a hard fact of life forme for six or seven years. That’s since I was diagnosed. My issues actuallydate back to college and even, I realize now, back to my adolescence.

Like way too many boys and men, I suffered in silence forfar too long. I didn’t get help because I wasn’t sure I needed it. I was too scared or too ignorant to ask for help.

I am far from an expert, but now I know the symptoms, evenif I still fail to realize I’ve slipped into the deep, dark pit of depression until I’vehit rock bottom. I hit rock bottom this summer, and it was pure misery.

If you think you might be depressed, help is available. Here is some more great information from NAMI on what depression is exactly.

If you’re having a bad day, you may not be depressed. But ifyou can’t remember the last time you had a good month, I’d recommend talking toa professional. Folks who know a lot more about it than I do say psychotherapy— ascary sounding but basic term that means talk therapy—is a good place to start.You may or may not need medicine.

Since starting this blog, I’ve noticed there can be fiercedebate about whether drug-free treatment of depression really works. I wouldsay it depends on your circumstances, your family history and, probably, yourbrain chemistry.

The specific type of talk therapy that I havefound helpful is cognitive therapy. It’s basically learning to change the way wethink. There all kinds of techniques that a therapist or psychiatrist can teachyou.

One of the techniques I use when my mind starts racing isthe Stop Sign Technique. To stop the negative thought patters that sometimesresult in near full-blown panic attacks, I close my eyes andenvision a literal STOP sign in exquisite detail. Its color. Its shape. Theletters S-T-O-P and what they look like. It helps. Sometimes, anyway.

For many of us, talk therapy alone isn’t enough. It isdifficult if not impossible for me to imagine life without medicine at thispoint. Maybe that day will come, it just won’t come anytime soon.

A good place to start is to get educated. Talk to yourprimary doctor if you might be depressed. Ask—demand if you have to—a referralto a therapist or a psychiatrist, or maybe both. It may be the best phone callyou ever make.

If you are like me, your family will thank you for it.

I plan to blog a couple of times this week in recognition ofMental Illness Awareness Week.

My hope is it helps someone, even if it’s just ONE.