Steve Snyder is editor of the Muenster Enterprise and Lindsay Letter newspapers. Steve is also a long-time, active LifeRing convernor and contributor.
This blog is an edited version of his May 13 newspaper column.
I have for years, regularly written a column in April about National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I have also, occasionally, written something in October about National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
It’s been a long time since I’ve said something anywhere about the following topic, but it too needs mentioning.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated already growing tends in America on two mental health issues — depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, there’s more serious mental health issues that continue to face our country, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.
Decades ago, laws were changed in states around the country to allow more people with these more serious mental illnesses to live outside of state facilities. The move was a mix of state cost-cutting, libertarian impulses on personal liberty, and problems with many of these institutions, as dramatized in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
But, there were problems. In part because of the side effects, many schizophrenics became “non-compliant” on taking Thorazine or other medications on their own. In some cases, auditory hallucinations with schizophrenia or other severe mental illness may have “told” sufferers not to take these medications.
And, all of society pays for the result.
Rough estimates and guesstimates say that America’s homeless population, as far as major causes of their homelessness, split into three major groups, with one being the mentally ill, the other being addicts (including alcoholism here as an addiction, professionally all considered substance use disorders) and another group being those who primarily have had severe adverse financial situations, such as medical or other bankruptcies largely out of their control.
That said, the first two groups overlap. People with severe mental health problems may use alcohol or illicit drugs to self-medicate. Even the non-homeless do this. We all, as a society, pay the costs for this. Diminished lives and livelihoods, crime, property deterioration are just a few of the costs.
People with “less severe” mental health issues, such as the depression and anxiety I mentioned at the top of this column also self-medicate. In all these cases, the mental health problem doesn’t go away; it just goes below consciousness at times, where it can be even more problematic.
It’s estimated that one in five Americans will suffer a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. So, look around. It may be someone you know.
It’s otherwise a complex issue. Many mental health problems seem to have some degree of genetic heritability. But, they’re not fully heritable, or that close to it. Environmental triggers, or physical illnesses, can cause these mental illnesses to start up. King George III, contra the “Hamilton” musical, appears to have suffered from bipolar disorder, not a blood disease. And, a new biography of him shows that every incident appears to have been triggered by him first suffering some case of the flu or similar.
Depression, especially, even more than anxiety, is not “less severe” in one sense. It, like the other mental health problems I mentioned above, can lead to sufferers considering suicide.
And, that help, as far as initial access, is supposed to be getting easier.
A new three-digit dialing code, like 911 for emergencies, 988 has been designated to take callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This dialing code will be available to everyone across the United States starting on July 16.
When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, per information from the lifeline’s website. These trained counselors will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary, the website says. In addition, the current Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, even after 988 is launched nationally on July 16, 2022.
If you are worried you have a mental health problem, including addiction, Mental Health America has some self-screening tests. Go to https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/ to take these tests online.
Finally, if you believe you have a problem, believe that you are worthy of support and help. Believe that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Believe that you are worthy of getting help for any addiction connected to your mental health struggles.
Steve Snyder, LifeRing Convenor and editor of the Muenster Enterprise and Lindsay Letter newspapers
National Mental Health Awareness Month — May 13, 2022