May is “Mental Health Awareness” month. Okaaayy. So what does that actually mean? I am sure for each individual, the meaning is different and highly personal. Some of you may be fortunate enough to not really know someone with mental health issues (though that is exceedingly uncommon, you probably do there is still just so much of a stigma) or some of you, like me, work, breathe, live, and die by it. I am not inferring that I am a mental health professional, far from it! But I can say that it has touched every aspect of my life. From myself to my mother, my sister, my niece (and her mother,siblings,cousins,friends) and even my own children. We have all had varying degrees of “mental health” issues.
My sister Marcie lost her life to mental illness. It took her long before her premature heart attack in March. She died just days after she turned 49. Our oldest sister also struggled with mental health issues and the circumstances around her disappearance,reappearance and sudden death at the age of 47 are eerily similar. It would appear that she had several good, stable years before her sudden passing caused by a brain aneurysm. She had been lost to us for years before I tracked her down on Facebook in September of 2012. I barely got a chance to know her before she died 3 months later. Since she was 11 years older than I am, we were not that close growing up.
My mother had her own issues, she was an alcoholic who suffered from depression. Her 3rd husband, my sisters’ father, was rumored to have killed himself or that he “accidentally” drove off a cliff.
My beautiful niece committed suicide in 2016 at the age of 16, she would have been 20 this earlier month. My children have had varying issues-mostly with anxiety and some depression ,especially after that tragedy. One of my children needed inpatient treatment, it was the hardest experience I have ever lived through. I am sure the same was true for him.
My children have decided that they do not want biological children of their own. We know that a variety of unsavory genes are passed down and even with the best nurture, nature plays a huge part. Unfortunately for me and my siblings, we did not have much of the nurture part and it has been apparent in each of our lives in some significant way.
If you are not familiar with the ACE’s study (though I think I have blogged about it on this site before) I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with it. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. Even if your score is high, you are not doomed to a life of medical complications and early death but you are certainly more at risk. I look at how my sisters have died. I look at my life. I look at my priorities and it has been the driving force behind my desire to retire early. I have already had way too many health issues and feel that I am on borrowed time. I hope the work that I do with children in the foster care system some how balances the powers that be. Don’t get me wrong, I do it because it is so near and dear to me personally. Each of my sisters had a score of at least 8, likely 9. Mine is right there with theirs. My children’s score (that I know of) is 2-4, depending on the child. They are 10 years apart and my oldest had a much different upbringing than my youngest. So try as a I might….the generational and biological trauma can’t be outrun-but you can build protective factors to beef up resilience and that can make or break a person.
If you know someone who is struggling, say something. Even if it is just a , hey I am here if you want to talk or text. If you work or live around teenagers or anyone struggling with mental health, I urge you to get and share information from the suicide prevention hotline. Post something on your social media. Share a story, give some hope and let others know you see them and whatever version they are in the moment is accepted, cared for, and loved. If your loved one is struggling and identify as LGBTQ+ the Trevor Project is an excellent resource.
So what is Mental Health Awareness? This. This is me and my attempt to be brave enough to share part of my story with you, hoping to take some of the stigma out of mental illness. Trying to raise awareness that not only does it affect that persons mental well being, it affects their lifespan, physical health, their family, their children and their children’s children. Trauma is an intricate web. It touches every aspect of a person’s life and like a stone thrown in the river, the ripples are far and wide.
So what does Mental Health Awareness month mean to you?