In this space some years back, I mentioned that I’ve had a few colonoscopies.
Yeah, I’m sure you were waiting for me to get back to that subject.
No details, right? Right. But it was a necessary subject because, among other things, my doctor conducting the colonoscopy (is that right? do they conduct them? perform doesn’t sound quite correct…) had read the column, and afterward asked me if I would write about the experience. That it wasn’t so bad, very tolerable, and oh yeah – they save lives, so go get them when your doctor calls for one, please?
Happy to oblige. A colonoscopy is a basic procedure, a minor inconvenience, and a lifesaving part of staying healthy, especially when you have a family history of colon cancer. Why not share that I’ve had more than one, and they’re just not a big deal? People have assumptions and concerns and fears that make them put off colonoscopies, so anything I can do to reduce fears and encourage use of them when needed is a public service.
Folks seem to have some of the same issues around mental health care; fears and misconceptions around behavioral health services keep people from making use of the services that are available, or to give up when they’re waiting for the ones that take some time to access. They see mental health issues as being a label you wear forever, because the problem sticks around and the treatment is either pills that make you dopey or you’re spending decades laying for a 50-minute hour on a sofa telling a shrink about your childhood. In other words, people have some assumptions and anxieties that are largely based in stereotypes and confusions and frankly outdated images of what behavioral health care is, and does.
So may I note that I’ve made use of behavioral health in my life? Details aren’t important; if you really have to know, get ahold of me, and we can talk, but I may tell you about my colonoscopy first.
But I have, both in college and after, made use of mental health resources to help deal with life and circumstances that were leaving me out of step and turning in circles in my life. I needed a solid, dispassionate listener who also could make practical, evidence-based suggestions about practices I could engage in and new patterns I could follow that would change how I responded to difficulties.
Or as the phrase in behavioral health goes: Treatment works, recovery happens. The biggest barrier I’ve noticed as a pastor is that even very smart people are somewhat stupid about what counseling and psychology and treatment or recovery are. They really do get stuck in movie stereotypes and old cartoon pictures of therapy.
If you think that mental health is just a life sentence of “crazy” and that treatment is no more than oppressive medications or mysterious conversations with someone sitting out of sight as you lie there answering questions, it makes sense to avoid pursuing treatment. But today, mental health care is complex and flexible and adaptive. It’s very similar to talking about chemotherapy, which used to be largely one kind of awful experience, but now is many, many approaches with much more going on to make it tolerable — and successful! — than once was the case.
Starting with our community’s invaluable 211 hotline, you have access to behavioral health supports in this community that can address a variety of issues, from depression to anxiety to addiction to major mental health problems. And pretty much all of them have effective, proven treatment strategies that work. You can talk to your family doctor, you can call Mental Health America, you can call 211 even if you’re just wondering how to help a loved one, a family member, a friend, and say “help!”
And help is out there.
Odds are, that help won’t be something you’ll need for a lifetime. But if you do, keep in mind that an illness of the mind is really no different than any other chronic medical condition: if you walk with a limp, you walk with a limp. Get your physical therapy, and life goes on. The same goes for mental health hiccups that we all, at one point or another, can have.
For men who won’t see a doctor about anything, that’s an entirely different column! But if you need mental health care, make the call. Accept the support. It’s there for you, and it works. Bless you.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he’s used mental health care services and doesn’t care who knows it. Tell him what you don’t care who knows at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
Found in The Newark Advocate May 30, 2015