How to Be Aware of Mental Health

For those of you who are regular followers of the GateWay of Hope blog, you’ll remember that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We want to keep you informed about important issues, so from time to time, we will address various “awareness months.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you were sitting across from me, I would ask you what you think of when you hear the word “mental health” or “mental illness.” You might give an answer similar to one of the following:Counseling image

  • Mental illness just means you’re depressed.
  • Mental illness has to do with “crazy people.”
  • Mental illness would NEVER affect me, my family or the people in my church.
  • People who have a mental illness are simply weak. If they were stronger or had more faith they could get over it by themselves.
  • There’s no real help or hope for people who are mentally ill.

These are just a few of the myths about mental illness, so I wanted to share a few thoughts and information with you.

There are hundreds of types of mental illnesses. Today counselors and psychologists use the “Mental Health bible” known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5 (www.dsm5.org) for diagnosing mental illness. The positive aspect of being diagnosed is when we say “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” it has a real meaning and is not just a word to throw around.

A few of the categories of mental illnesses listed in the DSM-5 include:

  • Depression
  • Bi-polar, Schizophrenia and Anxiety Disorders
  • Trauma, Eating, Sleeping and Sexual Dysfunctions Disorders
  • Impulse-Control, Substance Addiction, Neurocognitive and Personality Disorders
  • And the list goes on

These are just the main categories. Under each of these are sub-categories. So mental illness isn’t just one thing such as cancer or orthopedic issues.

I’m 100% certain you know someone with a diagnosable mental illness. In fact, many of you reading this post will fall into a category based on the information described above. It does NOT mean you, your family member or your church friends are crazy.

Many mental illnesses actually have their basis in our biology, genetics and brains. Others come from how we were raised or trauma we may have endured as children or adults. Still others come from long-term choices we have made. But often, though not always, it is a combination of these three.

Having a mental illness does not mean you are weak. Neither does it mean you are unspiritual and don’t have enough faith.

Those kinds of beliefs only hurt people, akin to mocking the person who has been in a terrible car accident, saying she is stupid or weak because she can’t run the New York marathon.

Today there are many varieties of help for people with mental illnesses: individual counseling, support groups, psycho-education, medication, self-help books and of course – prayer.

Whether people choose a public mental health facility or a private counselor, they can get help. Whether they choose to confide in their pastor or church leader or go to their doctor, they can get help.  Whether they join a support group or take a psychiatric medication or attend a psycho-educational seminar, they can get help.

Many people think medication is not a good way to address a mental illness because medications have been abused or people think mental health drugs are unspiritual. Still others prefer going the natural realm of using vitamins and supplements. That’s also okay, if they work.

But please don’t condemn people who are on psychiatric medications or tell them not to take their drugs. No one would tell a diabetic to not take insulin and just pray.

The same thing is true about medications for depression, anxiety and a whole host of other conditions. Yes, medications can be over-used or used wrongly, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Please remember the best help for anyone with a mental illness is usually all of the above. Talk-therapy and medication-therapy working hand-in-hand often are a winning duo. The church and the counselor partnering together can offer more than either of them can offer separately.  When you add the doctor, the collaboration is even stronger.

The person with a diagnosable mental illness of any kind needs prayer and encouragement. The last thing she needs is to be told to just “get over it” by having more faith.

That suggestion causes unbelievable harm and shame. Christ-followers would never want to do that to fellow believers or family members.

To learn more about mental health and mental illness, we recommend two websites: www.nimh.nih.gov and www.nami.org. Become informed and educate yourself.

Another organization in Olathe with a similar name as GateWay of Hope is Pathway to Hope. Pathway advocates for the mentally ill and offers support groups for clients and their families. You can learn more at www.pathwaytohope.org

GateWay of Hope can help the women in your life who struggle with a mental health issue. Please call us at 913.393.GATE(4283).

We are here to help and encourage you.

©2016 – Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope