We have officially embarked on our newest adventure: The Mental Health Crisis of 2021.
Although this may be new news to some, it is not to many. Despite experiencing this crisis for more than a century, the stigmatization and infamy of mental illness has long prevented awareness. In fact, in 1840, activist Dorothea Dix “advocated for better living conditions for the mentally ill after witnessing the dangerous and unhealthy conditions in which many patients lived,” according to Unite for Sight. “Over a 40-year period, Dix successfully persuaded the U.S. government to fund the building of 32 state psychiatric hospitals.”
Mental illness has certainly been recognized for decades. However, there has been a great misunderstanding about the available community services, funding, and many treatment options. Even with the many years of acknowledgement and even confusion surrounding mental illness, it still took 40 years of persuasion to construct state psychiatric hospitals.
Even more so, many of these state hospitals during the 1900s had deplorable conditions. Why? Because mentally ill people took a backseat. They were viewed negatively in many ways, often placed in asylums where they were shackled and punished for their illnesses.
If there was acknowledgement of mental illness in the early 1900s, why is there still such a stigma today?
After years of contemplating this question, I have been able to truly comprehend the full picture: There’s no simple answer. It’s almost like asking the question, “Why do people do what they do?” Or “how come they think that way, and not this way?”
The complexities to these questions raise even more questions. In studying different areas of psychology and sociology, I learned there is no singular reason. Rather than debate whether we are the product of nature or nurture, I thought it best to understand the basics of “normal” and “abnormal.”
What is normal? Am I normal? Sometimes I’m sad — does that mean I’m depressed?
“Normal” in terms of behavior is what is expected or is a response typical to that of the majority or norm. Once our behaviors deviate from that norm, they can be considered “abnormal.” For example, if there is a line of people waiting to use a shared or public restroom, a “normal” behavior would be to stand in line after the last person.
It becomes “abnormal” if we choose to skip that line and push our way to the front.
Such behaviors can certainly be undesirable. But in this case, they don’t fit the “disorder” or “illness” categories just yet. Let’s move on.
Simply put, a mental illness is diagnosed for one reason: So professionals know how to treat. We use a book or a guide to help make such diagnoses, and have no intentions to just slap a label on someone. We want to understand how best to help that individual.
No one person is the same, nor is each mental illness. There’s a full list of signs and symptoms for each disorder in our diagnostic manual which allows plenty of room for varying considerations with regards to diagnoses.
Having some symptoms from some disorders in the manual doesn’t mean someone is mentally ill. Not every day will be the best day ever. Some days are happy. Some days may be sad. And some days we just may feel “meh.”
This is normal. However, if those sad days persist — or the feelings of indifference have not subsided — there may be a need for a therapeutic intervention.
A priest from a local church spoke during a service I attended for a loved one’s passing. His words resonated with me, with my family, and with the entire congregation. He said, “If you need to cry, cry. If you’re sad, it’s OK. Lean on your friends, family and loved ones in your time of need. That’s what they’re there for. Just don’t live in despair. Get up and move. Find your happiness again.”
He was right. Being sad is OK when you’re mourning a loss, when you first lose a job, or even when experiencing a breakup. Moods become disordered when we’re unable to step out of this “funk,” so to speak. If one’s depression persists without any resolution in sight, it’s so important to know that there’s help for you. Support exists for what you need, when you need it.
Without any interventions, depression can worsen, which can lead to hopelessness and helplessness. When this occurs, daily living becomes challenging. Being productive, showering, eating and socializing may become like the hardest things to do — sometimes there’s just no motivation or energy to do anything.
Asking for help may be quite difficult, as we may believe things will simply get better on their own with time.
A positive outlook like this is great — keep your glass half-full.
The caveat here is that sometimes our moods just don’t get better on their own, no matter how hard we try. That’s OK. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s not OK to sit and stir in your own thoughts, because you deserve to feel better.
As we begin to move forward from the coronavirus pandemic, more mental health concerns and needs are emerging. Our new virtual world created more isolation, sickness, grief, financial difficulties, depression, addiction, and other behavioral health concerns. Because these challenges and barriers have shown their ugly faces, we are now in a mental health crisis.
There is hope. There is help. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Let us help you. That’s what we’re here for.
The author is a mental health professional with Summit Oaks Hospital in Summit, New Jersey.
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