April showers have brought May flowers, so spring is a common topic this month. The Kentucky Derby has been run, Mother’s Day is just around the corner and Memorial Day will be here in a few weeks. In normal times, the Bluffton Village Festival, aka MayFest, would be held the day before Mother’s Day.
But these are still not normal times. And partially because of that, I’m choosing another topic for this first of May column.
May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, focused on an often overlooked – or ignored – topic that probably should get lots more attention. Would it be more palatable if we called it Mental Wellness Month?
As you can read in two other articles in this paper (pg. 38A and 58A), the pandemic has wreaked havoc with the mental health of all facets of our population, even here in our little corner of the world.
I’ve spoken with folks who say they feel “on the edge” of a deep, dark precipice. I know of friends who are isolated, lonely and suffering. Their mental wellness is suffering.
Recently, a reader emailed some thoughts on my previous column about “brain fog,” sending a link to a New York Times article that describes that feeling as “languishing.” The reader continued with a list of social activities and events formerly enjoyed that she said she has no desire to do again. She admitted she is “maybe more resigned to things not going back to that kind of normal.”
I am concerned about her, and so many others like her. Although I’m not a medical expert, I worry that this reader is suffering from isolation anxiety and perhaps even depression. I also worry that it’s far more common than we think.
Just last week, I heard from a friend whose high school child is experiencing some serious mental health issues. The teen has suffered with depression and anxiety issues for a few years, and has been on medication, but now it seems different.
Social isolation from friends and classmates, losing interest in hobbies, falling grades – somewhat attributed to effects of COVID-19 – sent the child to a dark place, the parent relayed. I’m sure this child is not the only one.
Thankfully, a professional counselor was helpful in guiding the family through a crisis period, and all seems to be back on an even keel.
Psychologists and other therapists remind us that mental health is as vital to well-being as physical health. When we suffer physical ailments, we go to a doctor who specializes in that ailment – cardiologist, oncologist, dentist, orthopedist, etc. When we suffer mental ailments, we need to just as quickly seek out professionals in the field – psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, counselor. There should be no qualms, no stigma in seeking help for mental issues.
I remember when, as a child, my mother whispering the word “cancer” in a sentence when telling a friend that someone was sick. Those days are long gone, and cancer treatment, surgeries, recovery, and survivorship are quite common.
One reason, I have to believe, is that the stigma was removed. We started talking about it.
Perhaps someday the same will be true of mental health. Let’s start talking. Let’s break the stigma.
Resources: NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Lowcountry, 843-636-3100, firstname.lastname@example.org or namilowcountry.org. National Helpline: 800-950-6264 (NAMI) In crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Crisis hotline: 800-273-8255, or text “TALK” to 741741.