The Fall has always been hard for our son Evan. For all of us. Both of Evan’s hospitalizations happened around this time of year, and recently we have been reminded of why. Evan is twelve years old and has suffered with mental illness since before he could walk.
The Austin NAMI Walk was on September 26th, and I was honored to be both a sponsor and the master of ceremonies. Over 2000 walkers showed their support for mental health, advocating for those who struggle with mental illness, and stomping out the stigma that mental illness continues to have.
The day after the walk, Evan had an “episode”. We were taken back to a place we try to avoid at all costs. While we’ve had lots of good days in between, these days remind me of why I feel so strongly about mental health issues, and in children in particular.
One in five children and one in four adults will experience a mental health issue in any given year, yet only 20% are identified and receive treatment. The third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15-24 is suicide. When there is violence in a movie theatre or school, we are quick to look at changing gun laws, yet we still don’t treat mental illness as a “real” illness.
What can you do to help?
- Break the silence. If you or a loved one is suffering with mental illness, talk about it. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell someone you have Diabetes. Mental illness is no different. This is mental illness awareness week. There is no better time to talk about this issue.
- Offer support, not judgment. It’s easy to get angry with the people in our lives who suffer with mental illness. They can be irritable, forgetful, irrational, and difficult. Then again, we can all be that way at times. Rather than passing judgment, try to understand, empathize, and offer support.
- Get involved. There are numerous mental health organizations that could use volunteers, donation, advocacy and support. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has been a huge source of education and support for our family, and a portion of all my book proceeds is donated to support their efforts.
- Ask for help. There is NO shame in admitting you or a loved one is struggling. Reach out to friends, family, or local organizations that can offer support. The national suicide hotline is 800-273-8255.
- Learn more. Knowledge is power, and the more we know about mental health and illness, the more we are able to find treatment and recovery options. Here are just a few resources:
Living with a child that suffers from mental illness is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it truly tests the meaning of unconditional love. Please don’t wait until you or someone you love is in crisis before you ask for or offer help and support. No one can do this alone.
If you’d like to make a donation to NAMI Austin to support their work in education, support, and advocacy, you can do so at http://anngrp.com/nami
“Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle”
-T.H. Thompson and John Watson