Column: Changing the world, one 'how are you?' at a timeBy JOSHUA WILSON,
I’m one of the millions of Americans who struggle daily with a mental health disorder. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. It took many years and a whole lot of suffering to get a correct diagnosis. Through medication and talk therapy, the symptoms are muted, but definitely still present.
It’s almost impossible to explain this disorder to someone who doesn’t have it. Imagine having a black cloud sitting in front of your eyes every minute of the day. The cloud may clear for a moment, but before you can breathe a sigh of relief, it’s back — and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s brought a hail storm with it.
That’s my reality: obtrusive and unending thoughts. Those thoughts, which typically manifest as worries, can range from “I wonder why that person doesn’t like me” to “I wonder if my mail will bring some kind of unexpected bill that I can’t afford.” The thoughts can sometimes be logical ones, but are mostly ungrounded and illogical fears. While my OCD doesn’t manifest itself into any rituals, it does have a few nasty other effects, such as the depression that comes from those unending thoughts.
I don’t tell you any of this to gain your sympathy, but instead to help you realize that mental health disorders are all around us.
Your best friend, significant other, family member, co-worker, etc., could be fighting an intense battle you know nothing of — and they could be losing.
Depression is a monster that you must experience to understand. Once you’ve lived with it for a while, you become invested in hiding its symptoms from others. The burden of hiding what’s really going on adds more tension to an already frazzled mind.
With several high-profile suicides in the news lately, it’s more important than ever that we start taking mental health more seriously. It’s also time that we start checking up on friends, family members, and others.
So, how do you know if someone close to you is suffering from depression and sliding toward something drastic, such as suicide?
Psychologists list many warning signals. It’s important to remember that suicide usually isn’t a sudden decision, but instead something that builds over time.
If someone you know begins to withdraw from their family and friends, seems more agitated and restless, or has a sharp increase or decrease in activity level, it may be time to have a conversation with them.
It’s important to show others you care and to be available to listen. The fact that someone cares enough to even ask “How are you doing?” could mean the world to someone who is depressed. A smile and a kind word can go a long way.
We must also end the stigma attached to mental disorders. People who have a physical illness, such as arthritis, aren’t judged for their condition — and mental health should be no different. Other barriers, such as the high cost for treatment, religious obstacles, and even the lack of qualified providers in certain areas, must also be knocked down.
I believe that together, by showing we care and by undoing the damage caused by stigmatizing these disorders, we can start reducing the climbing suicide rate.
We can literally change the world. However, that change must start with all of us — and it can be as simple as keeping your eyes open and asking others, and really caring about their responses, how they’re doing.
Joshua Wilson is a public relater (and sometimes) good idea generator living in Hattiesburg. Send a "How are you?" to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.