Just Like You
By Mike Daly
It is the beginning of June, and I am writing about mental health. But wasn’t mental health awareness last month? May is mental health awareness month. Isn’t it? So why did I wait? Why am I writing now? I waited until June because part of the message, perhaps the most important part, is that mental health is something we should think about, consider and treat every day of every month because lives are affected by it every day of every month.
The world is full of statistics, lots of them. But to appreciate the need, you should know:
3 million kids live with Depression in the U.S. – National Institute of Health
322 million people of all ages live with depression – World Health Organization
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 6 High School students have seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 have attempted suicide.
In a world where we are faced with the crisis of the moment, the strife and division of our population, mass shootings, countries being invaded, and the perception of our rights being trampled, it is easy to overlook or forget these statistics and move on to the next attention grabbling headline.
Shocked? I am. Each of those statistics should be a headline. Each of those statistics should be something we are concerned about every day of every month. Unfortunately, we are only shocked by these headlines until the next new shocking headline and move on.
Mental illness does not have a face or a flag on our newsfeed. Unless something tragic happens, we don’t think, or talk, about it. When something happens, we grieve, discuss the need to address it and move on. Maybe we stay with it long enough to make a donation, have one more conversation. But, we do move on.
However, people who are living with a mental illness can’t move on. They can’t move on because of the stigma they live with. They can’t move on because they are afraid of getting treatment. They are afraid of the labels, and the effect these labels can have on their future. They can’t move on because their families, friends, and the community say things like “suck it up”; “you’re overreacting”; “stop trying to manipulate me”. They can’t move on because we have not made the commitment to ensure that good reliable and continuing mental health care treatment is available.
And if you are not sure of the need, if you think it is only important for the length of the news cycle or a month, I ask you to imagine your life without someone you care about; a sibling, a friend, a parent, a spouse, or even a child. That is the cost of not taking mental illness seriously every day and providing the support.
Despite working for a mental health awareness organization, we often forget about the lives that are affected by mental illness. We are presented with statistics about mental illness and statistics about the participants in our programs. After a while, we become disconnected from what it means. It becomes business, and we lose sight of the larger picture. I was fortunate that one day I received a call from the “Just Like You” Film Production team, and they asked that I watch a movie they produced. I watched it, and it is a moving and informative film called “Just Like You – Anxiety and Depression”.
“Just Like You” introduces us to a group of brave people who are living with mental illness, family, friends and co-workers who accept them and understand that their illness is every bit as real as any physical illness, and support them, encourage them and care for them. And finally, you will hear from a health care professional who provides patients with the treatment they need.
Each brave person tells their story honestly and painfully – but hopefully. They relate their journey, from confusion, anxiety, and depression to treatment and management. We learn the experience of moving from confusion and fear to understanding and acceptance, from bewilderment to clarity. And, if we listen, we learn how these strong, brave individuals felt about themselves when they realized they have a mental illness. Along with their caregivers, they tell us how we can and should accept, support and encourage them.
Their self-awareness enables them to share how they feel when they suffer a panic attack. They teach us how their anxiety and depression keep them from believing they can get through the day. We hear the anxiety over how their anxiety and depression disorders will affect their lives. Adults say things like “I can’t breathe”, “I tried to push it down, but it pushes back”. Students say I wanted to sleep, but my spinning mind would not give me rest”; “my feelings are not being heard”; “I am treated differently than my siblings or classmates”. Parents say “I wanted to get him treatment, but I was afraid it would be a mark on his record”.
Storytelling is a very powerful tool. As you listen to these stories, you begin to know and care about those valiant people who are willing to bare their soul so we can understand. Being able to identify with them leads us on a path to an understanding of what mental illness is, and how painful it can be. It shows us that mental illness is more than a monthly issue. It is a person with a face and an identity, feelings and emotions. And because of their openness and honesty, we learn; not only about mental illness. We learn about the strong folks, their families, their caregivers and supporters, and we are inspired to want to help. These stories will give you a new appreciation and respect for these warriors who face mental illness, address it, and mange it on a daily basis.
Each person has a story, and they will tell you many things. Regardless of whether they are a student, a sportscaster or a morning news anchor, they are all people who encourage us to talk about it. Talk doesn’t cause mental illness. They let us know that the dialogue is important, and it does not cheapen or minimize the person; it lets them know that we know they are no different than anyone else. They encourage us to think about why we treat mental illness different than physical illness. It raises the question “Why do we call it mental illness?” We see the pain that the stigma attached to mental illness causes. Their bravery and honest dialogue put a face on mental illness, allowing us to move toward the person and beyond the stigma. They teach us that raising mental health awareness is not a one-month exercise. It is not abstract. It affects people. People with hopes and dreams. People who face challenges. People we know, people who live in our community. We see people just like us.
As you walk with each of them, you understand that they have hopes and dreams, like you. We learn to understand how mental illness can jeopardize those dreams. We see victory and success in facing the challenges presented, seeking the proper treatment, and in managing their illness and moving forward. You will watch them cope and overcome. And you will find yourself uplifted and cheering for their successes. You will watch them succeed! You want to provide the treatment and support they show us leads to successful outcomes. And hopefully, after your journey with these brave individuals, you will realize that they are “Just Like You”.
Just Like You Films (JYLF) is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 2009. Emmy Award winning filmmaker and founder, Jen Greenstreet, and acclaimed photographer and Emmy Award winning director of photography, Isaac Alongi, have collaborated to create films that turn dangerous stigmas into intelligence by eliminating misunderstandings. They tell the stories of people with anxiety disorders, depression, food allergies, facial anomalies, Type 1 diabetes, burns, cancer, autism, down syndrome, and more. JLYF captures real life stories that teach children and adults how all of us are more alike than we are different. The mission of JLYF is simple: to create a kinder, healthier world through the power of film. Learn more and follow JYLF at this link.