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A Post About Mental Health

I don't remember life before mental illness.

Do you know that most people with mental illness, be it depression, anxiety, etc., develop their issues by the age of 24? (Not ironically- about the time your brain reaches full development.) Of that group, most of those folks actually start developing symptoms by the age of 14. Hormones are a beast.

If one parent has mental health issues, you're something like 50% more likely to develop them yourself, and if both parents do, that raises the risk up to about 75%.

Mood disorders, autism, ADHD, schizoaffective disorders, and so forth. They're oftentimes genetic. But our environment makes a huge difference, too.

Queer folks are significantly more likely to have mental health issues- people are often disowned or mistreated by family, bullied, denied personal rights, and on and on. There are statistics. I don't have them in front of me, but I shared a post from Carroll County Mental Health Advocates a couple of days ago that did include those. It's harrowing.

Poor people- stress induces depression. There is nothing as stressful as not being able to pay your rent and utilities or when you have medical bills piling up. Children who grow up in poverty are 2-3X more likely to develop mental illness than those in a stable household.

Depression affects almost 20 million Americans. Depression is 3X more likely to kill you than homicide. Read that again. Depression kills 40,000 people in the United States every year compared to 16,000 from homicide.

And speaking of homicide, mental health woes among our first responders is also noteworthy. Working with officers first hand every day, I'm really an advocate of police reform for reasons other than just the obvious systemic problems. Reform also needs to involve the health and wellness of those who are on the front lines every day. Our LEOs are starting to get better training to deal with mentally ill citizen, but they also need to have their own stressors managed. Ask your LEO friends how many of their teammates are in therapy. You might be surprised at the response.

I forgot where I was going with this. I don't remember life before mental illness. I wasn't really a sad child, I don't think. At least not until I was about 10. But one of the fun things about dealing with a broken brain is that it affects memory. So maybe I was a sad child and I just don't remember. My cousin told me that I didn't like hugs when I was little either.

Weird girls in the 1980's didn't get tested for autism. But I was doing math workbooks FOR FUN in second grade. Instead, I got into the gifted program because I'm good at tests. I'm really not that exceptionally smart- my data recall is awful and I get frustrated when something doesn't click quickly, so I give up on things easily. If I took an IQ test today, my score would probably embarrass me. But as a kid it was high. Kids are so much better at puzzles.

Anyway, things have generally gotten better over the years. We are a household of energy vampires, so when things were bad with my son it affected the rest of us adversely. If he was only sleeping two hours a night, I wasn't getting much more either. Dr. Miller always advocated that if we could fix the sleep schedule, everything else would eventually improve. It was true. He's doing better, so most of us are doing better too. I'm not as poor, that helps. Significantly. A job with good work/life balance? Life saving. Medications have improved. I have solid support systems.

I'm lucky in a lot of ways. But I also put in a lot of work to get better. I was never complacent with being miserable. I want to be happy and successful and be able to lay down and sleep at night without stressing over every little thing that I have no control over.

I'm still not sure where I was going. I've totally forgotten the post that triggered me to start typing. What I'll add is that I'm seeing some interesting trends in Corporate Pride this month. Instead of just seeing a bunch of brands adding some rainbows to their products to increase revenue, I'm seeing a significant number of brands doing that... BUT also including donations to organizations like The Trevor Project. Even locally, Southwire posted about their new partnership. At least one food company I'm seeing ads for is donating 100% of their profit on an item to this cause.

I feel like we've come a long way in fighting stigma in my lifetime. When I was a teenager, I tried to hide my issues, masking as best I could to the point that I do it automatically a lot of times now. I was ashamed of my depression like I was doing something wrong. Now it's just a part of what makes me, ME.

Now, I ramble on about the ups and downs freely with my friends and loved ones and anyone who is interested in listening. Because now I know the statistics. I know that I'm not alone. I'm not just a lone "weirdo". And you know what? It feels good to know that I'm not alone. Not that I want other people to experience these struggles, but because we can help each other.

I'll keep on talking it out publicly because talking about it decreases stigma. If you see someone who is popular and doing good things in the community, someone who is educated and successful in business, etc. talking about going through the same shit that you're just trying to figure out- it offers hope. There might not be a cure, but there is hope that things can improve.

I had suicidal ideation for twenty years. Every. Single. Day. I thought about how I didn't want to keep fighting. Egads, that was exhausting. There's no tired like soul tired.

I've attempted suicide more than once. If there is some sort of deity, they've provided me with guardian angels aplenty. Friends who were there for me through some of the REALLY dark times. Strangers who just sat on the sidewalk with me and let me cry when I was having a freakout. Friends and acquaintances who talk about their own experiences with therapy and medication.

But then I found some meds that actually worked for me (after significant trial and error, weight gain, and awful side effects), I haven't wanted to die in a decade. I still get sad. I still battle anxiety and all of the other stuff. But I'm happy to be here even through the hard times. Now science has improved to the point that you can just take a blood test to find out which med will be the most helpful. I think that's super cool even if it's not affordable for the masses yet.

Some people are of the school that you should not air out your private laundry on social media, but they're probably the same people who think women shouldn't talk about their birthing experiences (which CAUSE PTSD and depression), that men should "man up" and not cry or discuss their feelings, and that children should be seen and not heard, shunning them for asking why.

Mental Health Awareness Month is in May. But it's also in June because it's an important factor of Pride. It's also in February because it's something that affects the Black community. August includes Indigenous People's Day. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas. All of these are times when people struggle with mental health issues. So it's not something that we should just be talking about occasionally. It's something we need to be aware of all the time.

If you're able to, donate to organizations like The Trevor Project or CCMHA or NAMI, please do. You might have never been directly affected by mental health struggles, but you never know what you might experience down the road. Learn about the signs to look for in your kids and friends. Be that friend who reaches out just to chat when someone says they're struggling. You can't save everyone, but I promise it means something, and you might be exactly the voice they need to hear.

Okay, I think I'm done rambling. Time to get back to the grind.


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