Christmas: Being mindful of mental illness

Suzette Standring
Follow Me
Latest posts by Suzette Standring (see all)

The Christmas season reminds us to be generous. Folks everywhere, religious or not, stock food pantries, collect warm coats and donate to charities. How about those who struggle with mental illness, which is one in five adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Extra kindness can make a difference.

So much mental suffering flies under the radar. Anyone walking down the street could be experiencing suicidal thoughts, self-harm, PTSD, addictions or self-destructive OCD. News-induced fear is far flung in nanoseconds and stressful holidays leave many feeling adrift as outsiders. Most common are anxiety disorders and only 36.9% of the 40 million U.S. adults affected get help for this highly treatable condition.

Mental illness, compounded by negative social media and cyberbullying, is rising in young people. From 2005 to 2017, depression among ages 12-17 increased 50%. From 2008 to 2017, young adults with suicidal thoughts and related outcomes rose by 47%, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Good news. Mental illness can be manageable. Many learn how to control their focus, to replace the negative with positive, and to channel energies in better ways, such as writing, or artwork, and especially helping others so afflicted. Locally, South Shore Mental Health, Aspire Health Alliance and other resources offer real hope through techniques, counseling and medication.

I’ve spoken with those who are overcoming their conditions, albeit gradually. When I realize how debilitating mental illness can be, they are heroic. The kind of heroism that flies under the radar, just like their conditions to the casual observer. One woman afflicted with OCD self-destructive thoughts worked her way back from total isolation to a part time job. A man formerly plagued with suicidal thoughts keeps it in check by helping others also afflicted at his community mental health center. Teenagers who self-harm learn ways to cope and to embrace their self-worth. Truly, the courageous walk among us.

For those trying to reach a healthier state of mind, transportation, interaction, a job or a safe place to live can be make or break.

So many are trying to take the next step toward recovery, and local mental health centers, and community funding such as The Patriot Ledger’s annual Lend a Hand will help such individuals.

But help is not limited to clinics. We all know someone stressed or anxious.

Disconnection begets isolation. A sense of belonging and to be heard are healing gifts.

Spend time and listen. Bring a meal. Free up a caretaker for a few hours. Befriend a young person. Some need transportation or rent or even heat to maintain a firmer footing. Be the answer to someone’s prayer. Good will to all.