How are you? Three little words asked in passing and often without much real thought. Hi, how are? How’s it going? All questions meant to elicit a response as to someone’s health and emotional well-being. Yet, for just as many times as we ask the question, are there equal number of occasions when we actually slow down long enough so that we can actively and presently listen to the response?
Once a month, or more often if life seems especially hectic, my husband and I sit with our girls in the den. TV off, phones off, IPad off and we ask “how are you?” I call these opportunities to gauge their emotional state “mental health check-ins.” “How’s school? What’s the latest drama? “Girls, how’s life?” The answers to our questions are typically consistent. “We’re good, mom.” “Nothing is wrong, dad.” And my favorite, “We’re all Gucci!” Yet, every once in a while both will share anxieties about a test, a concern about a friend or a situation at school, or frustration over a larger, societal issue like the presidential race. Now that alone could fill six of my columns!
Thankfully, these “mental health check ins” have helped Kevin and I to see that our girls are in a good place. We have created, we can only hope, an environment where our children feel comfortable sharing their highs, lows and in-betweens. Unfortunately, expressing how we feel emotionally, mentally isn’t something everyone feels secure with our about. Why I wonder? After all, mental illness certainly isn’t a new concept.
Attempts to treat mental illness date back as early as 5000 BCE as evidenced by the discovery of trephined skulls in regions that were home to ancient world cultures. Early man widely believed that mental illness was the result of supernatural phenomena such as spiritual or demonic possession, sorcery, the evil eye, or an angry deity and so responded with equally mystical, and often brutal, treatments. From early man to current times, there is still a very real stigma against mental illness that prevents people from seeking the professional care that can help improve their mental health. When people suffering from mental illness do not get the professional care they need, negative consequences can go far beyond malaise: damaged relationships, lost productivity at work, thoughts of injuring one’s self or worse, suicide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide in the U.S. is increasing. After a period of nearly consistent decline in suicide rates in the U.S. from 1986 through 1999, suicide rates have increased almost steadily from 1999 through 2014, the last year for which data is available. Suicide is among the ten leading causes of death in the U.S. population overall and within each of the four age groups from 10 to 64 years of age. Suicide is also preventable with proper mental health care.
If we injure a hand or pull a hamstring or can’t shake a persistent cough, we go and see the doctor. We probably give little more thought to that process than wondering how soon we can be seen. But when we ourselves, families or friends are confronted with persistent sadness or anxiety, the decision to get help may not be as quick, easy or comfortable. Mental illness isn’t something you can just “shake off” and “sucking it up” isn’t a prescription.
Recognizing that something isn’t quite right with our emotional wellness doesn’t indicate a weakness, it indicates a strength. It says you know who you are, you realize something isn’t as it should be, and you are strong enough to ask for help. Or it says you care enough about someone to get help for them.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, it’s a great opportunity to start your own “check ins” with those you love. To ask them, sincerely, how they are doing, and not just this month, but every month. The sooner we, as a society, begin to consider mental health on an even par with physical health, the better, quite literally, we will all be.
Help is as close as a phone call: 844-CHD-HELP. We’re here, ready to listen.
Written by Kimberly Lee, VP of Advancement