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Like Cancer, Mental Health Issues are an Illness That Can Overwhelm the Strongest

The words “suicide is painless” – from a song commonly called “The theme from ”M.A.S.H.” – are not true. The people left behind are in great pain.

The month of May was designated Mental Health Awareness Month. Reports on the radio, TV, internet, newsprint, and magazines were abundant. President Obama spent time on the subject.

Our society is finally beginning to understand that mental health problems are an illness, just like cancer or heart disease. They can be treated, managed and sometimes cured.

There are many degrees of mental illness from mild to severe. According to national statistics one in five of us will experience some type of mental illness in our life.

As we get older, we expect to attend more funerals. It is part of the circle of life.

Since February, three people I know and cared about have died. All suffered from depression. All chose suicide, rather than life. None of them were related. I don’t think they knew each other.

Mental illness is complicated. No one treatment works on everybody, and sometimes it takes a while to get the problem under control.

People attempting suicide have lost hope. All hope. They see nothing but darkness and despair.

Chemicals in the brain get out of balance. It is overwhelming. Loved ones, careers, families, friends don’t matter. The emotional pain and anguish takes total control.

Loss of a job, money, and/or a relationship can send a normally balanced person into an emotional and mental nose dive. It can happen to any of us. I know. I have been there. I suffered a “situational reaction” in September of 2009. Spent a week in-patient at Avera Behavioral Health, bringing myself back from the abyss. Medication and counseling lasted almost a year.

My friends were male. All over 40.

Friend one took his life because he couldn’t cope with the loss of another important relationship. His third. He was in a continual struggle putting his life back together after being in prison. He was like a duck. Acting cool on the top, but underneath he was in turmoil.

I knew he was having problems. His expectations were unrealistic. We talked about it. He had been in counseling, but stopped going. Less than 24 hours after our last face to face conversation, he was gone. He promised me he was “safe.”
Obviously, that was not true.

Friend two’s life took an abrupt turn when the police showed up at his house. They confiscated his computer, allegedly with child porn on it. Also taken were illegal drugs.

He chose to end his life. He left behind a loving family and friends who are still in disbelief over the pending charges and his final decision.

Friend three had been dealing with challenging health issues. At one time he was a brilliant lawyer and a CPA.

His brain became messed up after taking too many “health supplements.”

He could no longer work. However, he had been functioning well under the circumstances. I saw him often in meetings of a men’s group.

Last week, apparently the challenges of his brain overtook him. He, too, chose to end his life.

We know cancer and heart disease can kill. Stress and depression can kill, too. Like cancer and heart disease, untreated mental illness can get worse.

Most of us ask our friends how they are doing after a heart attack, or during the progress of cancer treatments. Very few of us inquire when we know, or suspect, the issue is mental.

Is it because we are afraid of the answer? Or once the answer is given we won’t know what to say next, so we avoid the topic?

If your body was in pain because of a heart attack, or feeling odd for some unknown reason, you would ask for help. If you are having a difficult time coping with life, seek help. Raise your hand. Call somebody. It’s ok.

If somebody tells you they are having a difficult time, treat the conversation seriously. Help them get help. Doctor. Minister, Counselor. Hospital. If you don’t know what to do, call 211. That’s the HELPLINE, and people answering the phone will.

You will be glad you did.

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