Always offer your help

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I’d like to share a story that illustrates why it’s so important to be mindful of our mental health.

I was recently with a group of 27 high school juniors from all over Licking County who had chosen to hear about minding their mental health as they prepare to launch their adult lives. They were all chatting and engaged when one young man said, “I signed up for this session because I have mental health issues.”

Immediately, the room became so still I could have heard a pin drop. I thanked that brave boy for sharing and then asked the others why they got so quiet all of a sudden. “Because I’m embarrassed for him,” came one reply. Someone else said, “It’s scary.”

I explained that that in our country, one in three people their age (up to age 24) and one in five adults experience a mental health issue every year. What is there to be embarrassed or afraid of when it’s such a common experience?

I asked them what they would have said if he had disclosed, “I have a broken arm.” Would they have gone silent? “Of course not. I’d ask to sign his cast,” someone called out. “Or I’d ask him if he needs help carrying his backpack.”

Then I asked them what they thought would happen if someone with a broken arm waited years before seeing a doctor. Their answers included: “It wouldn’t heal right.” “He may never be able to use his arm again.” “It would hurt.”

In the United States, on average people wait 10 years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis for mental health issues. They’re often embarrassed, scared or they don’t recognize that what is happening to them is an illness. Think of how much better the outcomes would be for people if they would get treatment for their mental illness as soon as it begins to emerge. I encouraged the group of high schoolers’ generation to be the beginning of change and for them to start responding the same way to people with mental health concerns as they do to someone with a physical illness.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would be open minded enough to recognize that someone with a mental illness is a person needing care and concern? My hope is that one day, anyone with a mental health condition will feel secure enough, knowing that they won’t be ostracized or avoided. They will be comfortable enough to speak out and let those around them know what they’re experiencing and ask for assistance. And I hope those around them will respond by asking what is needed and how they can help, just as we all do for people with broken bones, cancer, heart disease and any other physical illness. Let’s change the conversation so everyone gets the help they need. After all, there no health without mental health.

Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.

Found in the The Newark Advocate March 25, 2017