I was recently reminded that May is Mental Health month. My first thought was, did they chose May because it was the month that I was born in and I may have driven far too many people over the edge? Is it in reflection of my own, sometimes questionable mental health?
Actually, the last part, while written tongue in cheek, has some merit. As you may remember, I wrote about my own struggles with depression in Confessions of a D-Momma a few months ago. Depression and mental health are far from a laughing matter. The year 2012 has personally pushed my mental health to its limits, has left me much more focused on learning new coping strategies and has reminded me to work to keep my mind as healthy as the rest of my body.
For some reason, 2012 has been a year filled with personal loss. I have had two close family members die. I have a lost a dear old friend and literally many, many more people that have touched my life. I have also been horrified to see the role that mental illness played in over half of these deaths. The toll on the families is incredible. The sense of loss and helplessness of those of us left behind can feel overwhelming.
Life can be difficult at the worst of time. People with diabetes, and their caregivers have an added burden. We worry about "numbers" on a regular basis. Is there enough insulin units given? What is the blood glucose level? What is your cholesterol level? What is your A1c? How many grams of carbs is in that food? How many hours has it been since the last test? How many days since a site change? How many hours since a correction dose was given? The list goes on.
The wear and tear on our psyche grows. As a mother, I woke with a start and a few choice words this morning. I had somehow slept five straight hours! What was wrong with me? Was my son okay? Had I missed a low? Was he high? Was he alive? These are all of the things that go through my head. The "guilt" of sleeping too much, forgetting to remind about a bolus or a site change, or the results of a poor A1c can be a heavy burden to bear. I can only imagine it being worse for a teen or adult living with diabetes.
I can't address the issues of a person with diabetes. I can only speak as a mom who also wonders if I have I given my non-D son enough? Does he realize that he is just as important? Have I been there for him in every way possible? Does he know how much I love him? Yes I tell him. Yes I do my very best, but is it enough.
All of these things continue to pile up. Our mental health is tested to the extreme. For many the test is too much and professional help is required. Is this a sign or weakness? Absolutely NOT! I have always told people struggling with these issues one thing...would you deny someone you love insulin to keep them alive? No? Then why would you deny yourself the medication that you require to help your brain keep things on track.--Its a lesson I occasionally have had to remind myself as well.
The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be lifted. Our brain, our mental health issues are as real as diabetes or cancer. We do not say that someone needs to suck it up and get on with it when they are facing chemotherapy. We do not say that they are weak when they rely on insulin to keep them alive and healthy. We must learn to offer the same acceptance and support to those suffering from other invisible ailments.
So this May, take a minute and think about mental illness. Do you know someone who needs help? Do you need help yourself? Please don't brush it off. Ignoring mental illness is no different than ignoring any other deadly disease. It does not make it go away. It just allows it to grow, fester and become more dangerous than ever.