Mental Health Awareness is Human Awareness/by Kyle Hamrick

I used to think that people who struggled with mental health issues were weak, unable to cope with life’s often uncomfortable realities. My friend Ben, a senior psychology major from Tupelo, Mississippi, made me realize my assessment was unbelievably wrong.

On the contrary, people who struggle with mental health issues are the strongest people one might ever meet. Their struggle is not with themselves, but with a debilitating disease. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an average of 40 million adults are affected by anxiety disorders, and only 36.9% of those with diagnosed anxiety disorders receive treatment. Furthermore, almost half of all people with anxiety disorders also experience depression, and vice versa.

Mental Health America revealed in their State of Mental Health in America 2021 report that 19% of American adults, roughly 47 million individuals, are experiencing a mental illness. In Mississippi, that figure is almost 19.5%, or 431,000 individuals. 

Imagine that these statistics are more than just numbers on a page. Imagine those statistical figures as human beings, with family, friends, jobs, hobbies, and dreams. They are just like you and me, and they deserve support not only from professionals, but from us, the people with whom they share their lives. 

My friend Ben was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder and experiences depression. He received this diagnosis in 2017, and to this day sees the same therapist he saw then. However, even after years of treatment and progress, his symptoms still attack him without warning. 

Ben’s experience with mental health issues and therapy inspired him to pursue a career as a licensed professional counselor. He will complete his bachelor’s in psychology in May, and plans to obtain a master’s in clinical mental health counseling after graduation.

Ben and I believe that mental health is an important and prevalent issue of which everyone should be aware. To that end, I prepared three questions and interviewed him for his perspective on mental health issues. 

Question 1: What do you wish people understood about mental health issues?

Ben: “First, that there is a very real stigma on mental health in our country. Everyone experiences mental health issues to some degree. The truth is that there are people that don’t just go through hard times every once in a while that cause heightened anxiety or depression that most humans face, but they are sick, depressed, anxious, and experiencing horrors every single day–right before you see them at the coffee shop, or right after you talk to them after class.

Think of mental health like a continuum, where on any given day you might fall in a different spot on the continuum, and you expect it to happen. It isn’t something they post about on social media or make a personality trait to share to the world and say, ‘Look at me!’ On the contrary, the individuals who are battling mental health are, more likely than not, someone who will never speak out about it until they receive the correct healing and help.”

Question 2: What advice would you give someone about maintaining good mental health?

Ben: “I would tell them that whether you have been able to take care of your mental health or are just starting to take the small steps necessary for healing, hold on to the fact that this journey is uniquely yours and not without hope.”

Question 3: How can someone help a friend who struggles with mental health issues?

Ben: “If you are worried about someone, it can be very hard to know how to help. But sitting back and contemplating how you should help wastes time while your friend is suffering.

Talking to someone is the first step to take when you know they are going through it. Find out what is troubling them, and ask how you can help. Trust me, they would rather you just be there and acknowledge that you care about them rather than say nothing, even if they seem reluctant for help. 

Don’t try to diagnose or guess how they are feeling. You’re (probably) not a medical expert or a counselor. Keep your questions open ended. Ask ‘Why don’t you tell me how you’re feeling?’ rather than ‘You are so sad,’ or ‘I could tell how depressed you were.’ Give them time to respond, and know that your mere acknowledgement and presence is a big step and helpful for them.

Listen carefully to what they tell you. If you know what they’re saying is very serious and life-threatening, get help immediately. If your friend is suicidal, contact 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). It’s vital to encourage them to get help. If they have contemplated suicide but aren’t in danger at the moment, still find help as soon as possible.

Talk to them, and remind them how genuinely loved and valuable they are. Listen to them, but do not push them to share. Let them feel comfortable, and talk to them about possible counseling.”

MC offers free and confidential counseling to all students through the MC Counseling Center on Alumni Hall’s fourth floor. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., students can schedule an appointment at 601-925-7790 or scds@mc.edu. For emergencies outside of regular hours, contact the on-call counselor at 601-925-3204. For more information and additional resources, go to https://www.mc.edu/offices/counseling/.

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