Richard Stride Commentary: It’s Mental Health Awareness Month — Are You Aware?

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In May of every year, we acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, awareness means “the quality or state of being aware, knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.”

It is still amazing to me that we stigmatize mental health concerns and downplay our need to get some help at times. Why do we do this? Where did we get the idea that depression, anxiety and the like are things to be ashamed of? Ashamed of? Really?

I recently saw a public service commercial on television put on by the Indianapolis Colts called “kicking the stigma.” It is quite amazing. It warmed my heart to see NFL players, coaches and team owner Jim Irsay acknowledging that mental health is important. They talk about their own struggles with mental health issues. If you have not seen it, you should Google it. You will be moved as I was.

Let us be totally transparent here — we all have experienced some sort of mental issue. No, it does not mean that we are weak. No, it does not mean that we are somehow “less than.” No, it does not mean that we should feel we have to “pretend” things are OK when they are not. In my own family, I watched my mother and father struggle with depression. Others in my family have also struggled with it, myself included.

Are you aware?

As I thought about the importance of the month, I recalled a time when I was asked to speak at a “celebration of life” service for a family. I noticed to my left the family was sitting apart from the rest of those gathered at the church. The family was behind a thin curtain. Why, I thought. As I looked over toward the family, I could see them sitting there, but could not make out their faces.  My thoughts at the time were “how tragic it is that we are so uncomfortable with human emotion that we would rather not see it? That we would rather hide ourselves behind a curtain, a curtain that hid us from others seeing us in this profoundly vulnerable, deeply human moment? When someone is grieving over the loss of a dear, precious loved one?” We hear others, and ourselves, say things like, “look at them, they are doing so well.” What does “so well” mean? It means they are not weeping outwardly, showing emotion at their immeasurable loss, but just “handling it.”

Are you aware?

I need to ask, why is suppressing, denying, pretending and feigning so extolled? The only answer I can come up with is it’s because we are simply uncomfortable with basic human emotions, in whatever way they are expressed. How sad for the person grieving to believe in front of others they must deny they ever cared about the dear one they lost. Better to deny emotion than display it, right? Wrong! It’s the same with mental concerns — better to deny them than acknowledge them, right? Wrong!

Are you aware?

If we are to ever, ever, ever get past the stigma of experiencing mental concerns they must be acknowledged. Acknowledged in the sense that they are allowed, confessed to and genuinely appreciated. Mental concerns must be seen as common, as ordinarily human, as common as the common cold. Because they are!

Are you aware?

We are as much emotional beings as we are physical beings. We emote all the time. We are never not emoting. We just do not always admit to it. I am tired of pretending. I would venture to guess you are as well. How about we begin, right now, to not deny, to not pretend, to not “make believe” we are fine when we are not. 

Are you aware?

Can we embrace mental health and stop not admitting when we do not feel up to par? Can we finally bring mental health concerns into the light of day? Can we stop the unnecessary denial, the unnecessary pain, the unnecessary suffering that happens when we are afraid to admit that I, too, struggle with my mental health? The answer to these and other questions concerning mental health is a resounding yes! We must make a commitment to embrace all that it is to be human. Our mental health is a big part of what it means, in the deepest sense, to be human. 

Are you aware?

Maybe you should be!        

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Richard Stride has been a practicing psychotherapist. He has worked in behavioral and forensic mental health for over 30 years as a counselor, clinical director and senior executive. He served eight years as a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He enjoys teaching, public speaking and prides himself on being a student of history. He is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at drstride@icloud.com.

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