Mental health awareness day has come and gone.
But, unfortunately, issues around mental health have not.
Mental health issues are like dark clouds that may suddenly, without warning hover over individuals, families and friends.
They are dark clouds that are filled with a despair that, many times, goes beyond understanding.
Depression has many varied causes. It can run in families, but it is not related to someone’s ethnic background, level of education, how much money he or she makes, or his or her relationship status. It can affect people from all walks of life and, although teens may struggle with depression, it can affect all ages.
Social Anxiety Disorder (also called Social Phobia) is another mental health issue that occurs when certain social or performance situations are avoided due to fear of being judged. In extreme situations the person with social anxiety disorder has difficulty living a normal life and feels completely alone, lonely and isolated.
Anxiety and depression are only two mental health issues. The list is endless and, often, very misunderstood.
However, in the big picture, perhaps understanding is not as important as accepting. People who suffer from illnesses such as cancer or multiple sclerosis or diabetes are not judged or criticized because they have had the misfortune of being sick.
Often a wall of silence shrouds mental illness. And, sometimes, people are critical and suggest the person who is suffering should simply pull themselves together.
So how does one break through this barrier? How do caring and compassionate individuals actually make a difference?
Being quick to listen and slow to speak seems like a reasonable suggestion that could be applied to any level of conversation. But, when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety or, even suicidal thoughts, being a good listener is crucial.
And, even though it is so easy to think ahead and try to fix the problem, it is far better to simply be there, to listen and to reflect on what the person is saying.
Listening without judging is a skill that may not be easy, but it is so important.
Mental health is a slippery slope and it can lead to dangerous consequences.
Of course, medication and professional help are crucial aides to help provide tools for individuals who are suffering from mental health issues.
But what about dealing with the stresses of everyday life? On the surface people with mental health issues appear to have it all together, to be able to cope, to be strong.
But, if the veneer they have surrounded themselves with should crack leaving their emotions raw and exposed, family and friends need to arm themselves not only with love and compassion, but with knowledge so they can support them and let them know they are not alone.
There is a wealth of information available on the Internet and there are groups and organizations that focus on mental health issues.
Being more open about mental health is important at any time of year.
And, one can be sure, that somewhere out there is someone who is struggling with an illness that is little understood and is not visible to the naked eye.
Being ready to not only talk, but more importantly, to listen could create a ripple effect that will truly make a difference.
Being a friend, not judging, showing kindness, listening and accepting does not require specialized education or training.
It simply requires paying attention, being aware, and being there!
That’s all any of us can do!