Mental Health Awareness Month 2015

Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of working with many individuals who suffer from mental illness – eating disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder being the most common.  I am continually amazed at how much they teach me about life, love, compassion, resilience, faith, hope and trust.  As they have shared their stories with me, I have been allowed a glimpse into our shared humanity, the fact that we all struggle, and that life is all about helping others through their struggles.  To find your way through life when everything is telling you not to is likely only reserved for the strongest souls.  I’m fully convinced of that.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Below are some statistics taken from The National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.7 million, or 18.6%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—13.6 million, or 4.1%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.

Obviously it’s pretty common.  Most of us know at least one person affected by mental illness.  If you yourself haven’t experienced mental illness, it may be hard to imagine not feeling capable and clear-headed.  You may experience thought processes that are flexible, integrated, functional and healthy. It may be difficult to understand how these individuals can’t just “snap out of it” when you are so easily able to do so.  But that’s just it; they can’t. Loving, listening and showing your support without judgment will be exactly what they need.  I have found a common thread among these individuals – they question their value and worth.  While they work to find self-acceptance and self-love, your acceptance and love for them will be invaluable.  

The reasons for mental illness are many and treatment approaches are multi-factorial, which does include nutrition guidance.  That makes Registered Dietitians an essential part of the treatment team.  Implementing self-care practices can be one treatment modality that allows a patient to feel worth taking care of.

I’ve been fairly open recently about my rocky past with food and disordered eating, which honestly is only possible because I have accepted and made peace with it.  I spent close to two years in therapy as part of my recovery.  While my issues were not as severe as some must endure, I am grateful for the empathy I can feel for those that struggle in this way.  I’ve had to learn how to be emotionally present with myself so I can truly connect to others.  It always reminds me of my favorite Brene Brown quote:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

May we all own our darkness, mental illness or otherwise, so we can be fully connected to others.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD