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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s easy to think of mental illness as something that occurs ‘out there’ but in reality, almost everyone is affected directly or indirectly by mental illness.

Currently, just in the U.S., 40 million people are suffering from anxiety,[1] 28 million are diagnosed with depression,[2] and this doesn’t include personality disorders, addictions, and those suffering from severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and other psychosis. There are 12 million children under the age of 0-17 who are on psychiatric medication.[3]

Not A Hopeless Condition
I wish we could find a better term than “mental illness,” since it implies that once diagnosed, it’s a permanent state. Not so. All mental illness has treatment, and when a sound protocol is followed, it’s quite possible to live a normal life. If the dis-ease is stress or trauma-induced, it’s possible to recover with the right therapy and support. For example, someone may be severely depressed from the loss of a child or any life crisis, but with time, the right help, and medication (if necessary), a full recovery is possible.

We shouldn’t categorize all symptoms as mental illness. They’re not. Just because someone has symptoms, doesn’t make them mentally ill. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious and depressed when enduring a traumatic event and no one should be classified under (temporary) conditions. Otherwise, such stigma further alienates the person from seeking help and decreases their chances of getting better.

Even people with severe mental disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia can be helped. These individuals suffer neurochemical imbalances and if they experience psychosis, they must take medication to be stabilized. When taken as prescribed, they can also go on a pathway to success.

Help is abundant. The Mental Health Association and NAMI provide free services for people in need of mental health services. Almost all severe mental illness is treatable with medication and therapy.

There’s no shortage of psychotherapists and psychiatrists for those who can afford private care. The greatest problem doesn’t lie in the solution, but rather, in the willingness of the participant to take the necessary steps to get better.

Not a Helpless Condition
Often, people will not follow a treatment plan and consequently, remain stuck in their symptoms instead of recovering. There are many examples. Someone with an addiction doesn’t want to admit they have a problem or won’t take the necessary steps to get sober and stay sober. Someone with a severe mental illness refuses or stops their medication because of side effects even though without the medication a full-blown relapse is imminent. Other people have difficulty following recommendations and resist the necessary changes that would help them to achieve a normal, happy life.

Change is uncomfortable but it’s also essential for someone who suffers and wants to get better. There is a solution to every mental health problem, and it takes courage and perseverance to stay on track. If someone is driven by comfort and complacency instead of the desire to improve themselves, they will remain stuck. But when someone is determined to learn how to achieve the life they want, they can succeed.

I’ve frequented a Dunkin Donuts near my home for the past thirty years. There’s an employee there who exhibits signs of schizophrenia. He has lively conversations with no one, stays to himself, and won’t make eye contact. Yet during all these years, he shows up for work. The other employees treat him no differently than anyone else. They simply accept his differences and work around him. Yesterday, was a real highlight for me. While ordering my coffee, I noticed him stocking donuts. Suddenly, he stopped in front of me, had his usual conversation with his imaginary friend to whom he said, “Oh that explains it,” and then totally unexpectedly turned around, faced me, glanced ever-so-briefly into my eyes with a crooked smile, and then abruptly rushed off. I was deeply moved by this extraordinary encounter and carried it within my heart throughout the day and eve.

Expecting everyone in the world to be the same is a narrow perception of reality. People with mental limitations have the same gifts as everyone else. They should not be treated as invalids or encouraged to become dependent when they can take care of themselves. They are not helpless or hopeless. Mental challenges have solutions like any other limitations that all human beings experience.

There is no mental disorder that a little love and understanding won’t soothe. We should always offer the kind of help that bridges the gap between functioning and non-functioning and then allow the person the right to fail or succeed.  In the end, there’s nothing anyone can do to save someone who won’t be saved and conversely, there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent the success of a determined soul. With the right help, all outcomes are ultimately up to the person with the mental illness. The person must want a better life and must decide to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

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Dr. Donna Marks has been a licensed psychotherapist and addictions counselor in Palm Beach, Florida, for over thirty years. In 1989, Dr. Marks developed a chemical dependency training program at Palm Beach Community College, which has grown into a four-year degree and received the Florida Governor’s Council Award. She is also a certified gestalt therapist, psychoanalyst, hypnotist, and sex therapist. She’s facilitated A Course in Miracles for over 30 years. In addition, she shares her methods with hundreds of thousands of listeners on podcasts, radio, and tv shows. Learn more about Dr. Marks, her books: Exit the MazeOne Addiction, One Cause, One SolutionLearn, Grow, ForgiveA Path to Spiritual Success, and The Healing MomentSeven Paths to Turn Messes Into Miracles, her services, and free offers.

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