Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about it

Since 1949, Mental Health America has celebrated May as Mental Health Awareness Month. I would like to thank each of the municipalities that recently released proclamations officially recognizing it as such. In recent weeks, Timnath, Wellington, Johnstown, Loveland, Windsor, Berthoud, Estes Park and Larimer County have all passed Mental Health Awareness proclamations, with Fort Collins scheduling one to be held at their May 21 meeting.

These proclamations have far more value than a piece of parchment embossed with a gold seal. They serve to open doors to conversations that resonate when shared. When we talk about Mental Health and we are open to sharing our own experiences or hearing the experiences of others, it strikes another blow against the walls of stigma we’ve been fighting to tear down for so long. Stigma is often the largest factor that keeps people from seeking the help they need.

We are regularly bombarded with news of increasing rates of suicide, overdoses, hospitalizations and crimes related to untreated mental health issues. Still, at SummitStone Health Partners, we know people can and do recover because we see it every day.

Take Allison* who experienced severe trauma in her childhood, which led to severe depression throughout her life. She turned to drugs and alcohol, experienced suicidal thoughts and nearly died from an overdose. Over the years, she continued to self-harm and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Today, after years of therapy, hard work and the right balance of medication, Allison describes her life as peaceful. She volunteers in her community and is working on an autobiography.

And there is Brad* whose severe depression and social phobia led him to isolate at home, unable to hold down a job. When he finally reached out for help, he was referred to SummitStone’s Spirit Crossing Clubhouse program where he felt welcomed and supported and received help obtaining and maintaining a job. Today he’s been employed for more than three years with a job he loves. Brad agrees that it’s hard to talk about mental illness, but he found it was the only way he could improve his life. Today he willingly shares his story of recovery with anyone who may be going through something similar, acknowledging that sharing his experience has improved it.

It is a fact that one in four people experiences a mental health issue each year, so if it’s not you personally, you probably know someone who struggles. Yet, what tends to be overlooked is that we see people getting better every day, getting jobs every day, obtaining housing every day, taking better care of their children every day and stabilizing their symptoms every day. Recovery is a stepwise process that occurs a little bit at a time. Often the first step is talking about it.

Michael G. Allen, MBA, LCSW, CACIII, is the Chief EO for SummitStone Health Partners
*Names have been changed to protect clients’ privacy.