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The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) is a grassroots organization that aims to build better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
On March 16th, Dr. Barrie Baker, a member of the NAMI Mass Board of Directors, visited the University of Massachusetts to speak about her personal experience battling depression. Dr. Baker’s powerful words taught students three important lessons about fighting mental illness.
1. For those affected by mental illness, maintaining healthy relationships is crucial
During the Dr. Baker’s first marriage, she noticed the sudden decline in her mental health caused deep cracks in the relationship. On one of her darkest days, she attempted to take her own life and was immediately transported to the hospital. Her husband had no idea how to handle the severity of her depression and reacted by punching a wall in anger. When she returned from inpatient care, the pills she attempted to swallow were still sitting in the middle of the room. She could not fathom why her husband chose to leave them in front of her.
The lack of emotional support inevitably ended the marriage and she entered a new relationship with a partner that was far more caring. In time, she learned to communicate with her son and husband, creating a safe and honest environment for everyone. The family understood that occasional space was crucial if she was having a rough day, practicing patience instead of anger.
Dr. Baker illustrated the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are fully supportive of what you are going through. Projected anger only exacerbates feelings of guilt and sadness, worsening the person’s condition.
2. We need to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness
Oftentimes, if a person breaks their foot or undergoes any type of physical surgery, they are exempt from academic or professional responsibilities. However, if a person is suffering from anxiety, PTSD, depression, or any other type of mental illness, they are not met with the same level of compassion. Many people believe that if the issue is not visible to the naked eye, then there cannot be a real problem.
A few years prior, Dr. Baker attended a conference that focused on tactics to combat the stigma. Halfway through the meeting, she asked everyone in the room suffering from a mental illness to raise their hands. Very few people, herself included, put their hands on their heads. In her eyes, this was the most prominent example as to why the stigma has not been erased. Even in a room full of people advocating for acceptance, people were too afraid to admit that they were suffering from mental illness.
NAMI is dedicated to presenting at campuses and in professional environments, in order to help shed light on difficult topics. Employers, faculty, and loved ones need to remember that some people’s suffering exists deep beneath the skin.
- Treatment is necessary and should be accessible to everyone.
When Dr. Baker was younger, the doctors tried to treat her for Bipolar Disorder, prescribing her Lithium. However, she did not experience any elongated manic episodes, so they eventually re-evaluated her condition and began treatment for depression. Oftentimes, the medication doctors prescribed would work for a small period of time. Eventually, she would build up a tolerance and have to experiment with a new drug or dosage.
Electrotherapy has been extremely successful for her, although it does make her forget small details, such as the current month. At an earlier point in her life, she knew she was entering a dark place, and checked herself into the hospital to avoid making a decision that would threaten her safety. Her ability to access medical care ultimately saved her life.
Oftentimes, people with mental disorders do not seek out help when they need it most. Accessing medical attention can help return a person to a healthy mental state while teaching them effective coping strategies. If a person is struggling with mental illness, they should never be forced to fight their battles alone.
Read More: Identifying Depression: Causes and Symptoms