The month of May is National Mental Health Month and dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness and reducing the associated stigma. In the early1900s, Clifford Whittingham Beers, who himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, paved the way for national recognition of those suffering with mental illness. Beers attempted suicide by jumping from a window, but he lived through it and was severely injured in the process, according to an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website. In his autobiography, “A Mind that Found Itself,” Beers said, “As I had penetrated and conquered the mysteries of that dark side of life, it no longer held any terrors for me.” Beers said he decided to, “stand on my past and look the future in the face.” Beers roused the nation to the plight of people with mental illness, and National Mental Health Month eventually sprang from this movement. During the month of May, we can raise awareness by remembering those who have suffered before us, and we can reduce the stigma by considering those who are suffering around us.
Many famous people have struggled with mental illness. One of the most notable and famous persons to have suffered from depression was Abraham Lincoln. It is said Lincoln was so depressed at times, his friends and relatives feared he might commit suicide, according to Innovation in Clinical Neuroscience. Sir Isaac Newton was considered “a candidate for making the diagnostic criteria of at least half a dozen psychological disorders” according to the book, Frontiers in Psychology. Winston Churchill reportedly suffered from severe depression. And yet, despite having mental anguish, or perhaps because of it, all of these men and women have impacted humanity in meaningful ways, and their legacies continue to do so.
During the month of May, as we focus on mental health and wellness, we should take time to notice those around us who put on a brave face but may be suffering underneath. We should recognize that military Families undergo constant adjustment with consideration to geographic dislocation and deployment as well as change in functional roles, expectations and family dynamics. Members of the military are at increased risk for developing mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression compared to their civilian counterparts, and the suicide rate among the active duty and veteran population has persisted despite efforts toward suicide prevention and treatment availability.
Raising awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness is important within our military communities so those in need will feel comfortable seeking help and accessing professional care. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, when someone is struggling, “the most important thing you can do is to ask how they’re doing and to listen without judgment.” It is also important to “emphasize that talking to a counselor or medical officer won’t hurt career or security clearance, and that every service member has a duty to build resilience by seeking advice and treatment when it’s indicated,” the site said. If you know someone who is struggling, take the time to listen, to be present, and then encourage that person to seek help. You never know the difference a kind word or bit of encouragement may make in someone’s life.
Christina Camille Hudson, DNP, Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic, Behavioral Health