This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as a minister who has bipolar disorder, I am aware that churches tend to be filled with silence not awareness. One of my passions is helping churches become more aware of mental health issues and know that recovery is possible. A great deal of stigma stems from the church which once (and some still do) thought it was a form of demon possession and that reading the Bible more and praying would take care of the problem. Heaven forbid a person take a medication or see a therapist! (I have found both really helpful.)
You are here
Mary Alice Do
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and third among young people. I first had suicidal thoughts when I was nineteen and in college. I thought I would kill myself by cutting my wrists, but I couldn’t cut deep enough and once I started bleeding then I would feel relieved and be able to go to sleep. I eventually overdosed on medication but only became a little sick. [Editor’s note: Cutting is not always associated with suicide. There are many reasons that might lead a person to self harm that are not related to suicide.
I have been very anxious lately although a good deal of what I feel is excitement. Combined they have made me less than completely functional lately.
After six days in the psychiatric hospital, I was taken to the intensive care unit because I had thought of a way I could kill myself in the hospital. There wasn’t much freedom in the regular unit, but there was even less in ICU. We were only allowed outside into a small yard once every couple of hours so those who smoked could have a cigarette. I didn’t smoke; I just wanted to be outside. A staff person went with us, we had to come back in when the staff person told us to, and then the door was locked again.
I had been out of work for five years and then four months ago, I began working part time. The job completely drained me and so I quit Thursday a week ago. I couldn’t believe how relieved I was afterwards. Then Friday came; I began second-guessing myself and worrying about what was going to happen. I became afraid.
Because of the job, a couple months ago, I began listening regularly to the song “Be Not Afraid”. Its words reminded me of struggles and fear I have faced and overcome. I will share just a few with you.
Psychiatric disorders can cause a multitude of problems that would be very difficult for a person without a psychiatric disorder to deal with. If you have a psychiatric disorder, it is even worse.
I like referring to mental illnesses as mental health challenges. This is because it is more inclusive of people who may not have a diagnosis. It reminds us that there are many related challenges and it offers hope that the challenges can be overcome.
I recently read an article written by a person who is tired of people like me talking about recovery from psychiatric disorders. She wanted us to “stop talking about recovery and start using a more useful and less stigmatizing word: hope.” I am not sure what she wants us to have hope of. Stabilization? Maintenance? Better medication? Better therapy? My hope is that I can have a full and meaningful life despite the fact that I have bipolar disorder, mild PTSD, panic attacks and an eating disorder.
Often times, people are depressed after the holiday season for a variety of reasons, but the New Year brings with it new possibilities if we are open to them. Every moment we are alive is a new moment so every moment brings a new possibility even though we may not be aware of it. When we are depressed, it is hard to see possibilities. I know this is true because I have spent a lot of time depressed.
It is that time of year again when we are supposed to be joyful, surrounded by friends and family, and have a generous heart. Many of us though find this time of year to be depressing especially because we are supposed to be in the Holiday Spirit. We are keenly aware we cannot be with loved ones either because they may live far away, have died or no longer associate with us. We are also reminded that we are often limited in what we can give to others. For many of us, it is a depressing time.