Bryan Welch Balance is critical to mental health

1. In an emergency, call 911.

  • Tuesday, September 9, 2008 7:31pm
  • News

Mental Health Tips:

1. In an emergency, call 911.

2. The Crisis Clinic 24-hour hotline is: 1-866-4CRISIS or 206-461-3222.

3. There are a bevy of Community Mental Health Agencies just a few computer strokes away.

4. Many hospitals or your family doctor can provide you with initial medication on the condition that you seek out more permanent mental health treatment.

5. Be patient, be resilient, be hopeful.

We bombard ourselves with images and thoughts each day, a veritable checklist of the things we need to see and do. A day is filled with laughter, concern, hopefulness, enthusiasm, concentration and creativity, which we somehow manage to prioritize and keep in balance. With varying degrees of success, we hold on to logic tightly, and embrace feelings of joy or love freely. We try to keep fear and anxiety at a distance, and seek out other like-minded individuals to share ideas and offer insight into this well-lighted path.

What if your path is not so light? Each day becomes a struggle; each night, a prison. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders and sexual disorders are more common than we think. Over 20 million people in this country are afflicted with these chemical imbalances. When confronted with it, we turn away from it, mustering up disdain or anger to direct at “the strange guy over there,” narrowing our focus and locking out our fear. We do it instantly, without regret, and move on about our lives without even a memory of the incident. We move on, that is, until someone in our family is affected by mental illness. One person’s struggles will ripple across the family boundaries of love and guilt, often without direction or cure.

Families are sometimes embarrassed by their plight, and individuals will refuse treatment because they fear recrimination from those they love. Some are unlovable or without family, and then it falls to all of us to help. In a society where strength is honorable, it is the ultimate weakness. In order to shine some light on such traumas, we have heard from the actress Patty Duke about bipolar disorder and former NFL standout Herschel Walker about dissociative disorder. Both are trying to push the issue to the forefront of the national consciousness. More light, funding and discussion are needed, but at least the issue is on the table.

My younger brother has a history of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, quirky traits that have prevented him from living a full life by most people’s standards. As he ages, the behaviors have become more pronounced and more fear-based. Treatment is somewhat sporadic, as the thought of making an appointment with a psychiatrist or counselor can bring out the very fear we are trying to address by going to the doctor. Long periods of calm are shattered by days of restlessness and unpredictability. The patience of those who work in our mental health centers is commendable, as rescheduling must be a dominant theme in out-patient treatment. Pushing forward through hesitation and over objection is the only choice, and at times it feels as if we are rolling a giant boulder up a hill, but up the hill we’ll go.

There are several people here at the gym who are quite willing to privately discuss some of the traumas endured in their lives. Seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, acute anxiety and post-partum depression were just a few documented afflictions. Some common characteristics of these people are as follows. All are considered highly successful by societal standards. All have college degrees, two have advanced degrees; all have worked in professional capacities in the United States or studied abroad. World travel for pleasure or work has been extensive. All have experienced the care of a physician or therapist. Working out has been a “saving grace,” and they can talk openly and willingly with friends about their struggles.

The catch is that even as I asked them about participating in this article, their first thoughts were, “But then the whole Island would know about it.” Such is the lid we keep on mental illness, lest it boil over. I don’t even feel comfortable using the term “illness” because these are delightful, healthy and humorous people with chemical differences. I applaud each of them for the courage to face their problems, respect their desire for privacy and cheer their determination to return to a full life. I am hopeful they will encounter only compassionate people in this community who are moved by their story and proud of their recovery.

The seeds of compassion can start with you. A little less judgment and a little more belief. Help someone today, comfort someone today, make someone laugh. If someone is exhibiting bizarre behavior, find somebody who can help. Follow up and see if you can encourage them to get to a professional who can begin the necessary treatment.

If a co-worker had a broken arm, you wouldn’t think less of him or her; instead, you would offer a little support. If someone needed to get in shape, you would encourage them to find the right personal trainer and maybe work out with them occasionally to check in on their progress. The same basic approach goes for someone struggling with anxiety, depression or any number of mental illnesses. Exercise your mental athleticism. Free your mind, and you might be able to free someone else.

Bryan Welch is the co-owner of Club Emerald on the Island.

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