In a powerful piece published this weekend in the Concord Monitor, journalist Annmarie Thimmins shares her story of living with a mental illness. She courageously opens up about topics that most people take great pains to hide, including being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, professional breakdowns, and the strength it takes to keep going.
Thimmins decided to post the piece after receiving calls from readers questioning whether 26 percent of New Hampshire’s residents have a mental-health disorder, a statistic that appeared in the newspaper’s recent mental-health series, “In Crisis.” She writes:
“Didn’t 26 percent seem high?” a caller asked me last week.
Not to me. But I’m one of the 26 percent.
I have been hospitalized twice for “suicidal ideation,” most recently for eight days in 2009 with a diagnosis of “major depressive order and anxiety disorder,” according to my records. I take four medications a day and have my counselor’s name and number in my emergency contacts on my cell phone.
This will be news to most of the people who know me, family members included. That’s because with lots of help from my husband, a lot of exercise (one of my therapies) and medication, I’m able to keep my depression and breakdowns private.
My colleague Sarah Palermo and I had hoped to introduce you to some of [the patients in the series] because even though they aren’t visible, they and their families are also affected by state budget cuts that have diminished community mental health care. Long waits in emergency rooms show the state hospital doesn’t have enough beds to accommodate the patients who need them. Cuts to Medicaid have prompted several community hospitals to shut their own mental-health wings and left case workers with more clients than they can adequately care for.
But many of the people we talked with declined to go public, for fear of stigma.
I asked Michael Cohen, the former executive director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, what it would take for the prevalence of mental illness to be better understood. Awareness, Cohen said.
“Personal stories . . . are powerful tools for changing minds,” he said.
Taking this advice, Thimmins chronicles her story and doesn’t shy away from including the unpleasant details. As you read her story, keep in mind that past data has shown that 4.9 million Californians need help for a mental or emotional health problem, but only a third of them have visited a professional for treatment.
Via Common Health
Previously: Supporting medical students’ mental, emotional health, Report shows 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have experienced mental illness in the past year, How gender differences shape attitudes toward depression, Breaking the silence about depression among men, Gender differences and mental health and Why are women more likely to need mental-health help?
Photo by Lawrence Murray