Speak out about what life with mental illness feels like

When mental illnesses or disorders are talked about, the language typically  used to describe them tends to be clinical and impersonal.

These words, while useful for doctors or clinicians,  often don’t do justice  to what life with a mental illness feels like. That is why this year’s theme “Life With a Mental  Illness” for May Is Mental Health Month is a call to action to share what life with a mental illness  feels like to someone going through it. May Is Mental Health Month was started 67 years ago by Mental Health America in Sheboygan  County’s national organization Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental  health for everyone.

Last year’s theme “B4Stage4 initiative” helped individuals understand  that when you address  mental health symptoms before Stage 4, people can often recover quickly and live full and productive lives. This year, we are building off of the B4Stage4 message and encouraging individuals  to give voice to what it really means to live at in all four stages of mental  illness. Life With A Mental Illness is meant to help remove the shame and stigma of speaking out so more people can be comfortable seeking the help they need and deserve.

This year a number of activities throughout May will support the theme and includes the six-hour workshop series “Honest, Open, Proud” MHA is hosting that will be held over three Tuesday  evenings where a small group of participants  learns to tell their story as part of their recovery  and how that eliminates  stigma. MHA is also offering Life in Color — a four-week, art-focused  series support group for adults who have experienced depression in May — as well as the annual Free Mental Health Screening Week. Call 920-458-3951 to learn more about the events or the mental health screening  week, a collaborative effort of mental health professionals in the area providing free screening opportunities May 23-27. MHA will connect individuals  to a local professional  who is volunteering  their time to provide a free screening session to help them determine if further professional support  is appropriate.

Or take advantage of the confidential, free online  screening tool at www.mhasheboygan.org. Screen for depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol  abuse, bipolar disorder,  eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Use the screening results to continue the conversation with a therapist  and/or start a conversation  with a primary care provider, a trusted friend or family member and begin to plan a course of action for addressing mental health.

Lastly, we encourage people to get involved this year through sharing in their own words how it feels to live with a mental illness by tagging social media posts with #mental illnessfeelslike. Posting with the hashtag is a way to speak up, to share point of views with people who may be struggling to explain  what they are going through and to help others  figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.

Research shows that by ignoring symptoms we lose 10 years in which we could intervene in order to change people’s lives for the better. Speaking out about what mental illness  feels like can encourage  others to recognize symptoms early on in the disease process and empower  individuals to be agents in their own recovery.

Kate Baer is the MHA Sheboygan executive director.  She may be contacted  for more information  at 920-458-3951 or kate@mhasheboygan.org.