Living with a mental illness

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- Defective. Weak. Soft. Broken. Crazy. Compromised. Unfit. Career-ending.

These are just some of the words that people may associate with mental illness. Sadly, the sentiment behind labels like these can act as a barrier to help-seeking for many who face challenges in their lives. A further hindrance to those with mental health problems is that their suffering can go unrecognized or unacknowledged, even by those closest to them.

The fact is that most people do not recognize mental illness when they see it. People can readily see and empathize with a physical injury or illness but not everyone can relate to an injury of the brain or emotional difficulties.

Mental health professionals work hard to bring awareness to psychiatric problems and available treatments, but we need your help. I invite you, the reader, to join in the efforts to shed more light on this important issue. So, what are the signs, symptoms and indicators to look for? Maybe there is someone you know that has not been himself lately or "something" is different. Perhaps he is more withdrawn, overwhelmed and irritable or seems keyed up/on edge. These are some of the more common indicators that seeking help could be a good option. Sometimes, there are more subtle signs that someone may be experiencing some challenges. For example, loss of interest in things once enjoyed, a desire to be alone more often, loss of appetite, increased alcohol use, and having a more "gloomy outlook" on life.

Some people may think they do not need help or may not know when it is time to get help for a mental or emotional issue. The military has made strides in bringing awareness to mental illness and addressing the stigma that comes with mental health, but we still have work to do. I would like to invite you to consider the many encounters and interactions you have on a daily basis with people. Do you really know the person with whom you are interacting? Have you considered that a loved one or friend may wear a mask to cover up problems and challenges for fear that others may discover they're struggling? Have you considered the many pressures that one endures daily to present as if nothing is "wrong" or that they are "fit"? What about yourself?

The reality is that people are fearful of being called one of those labels mentioned earlier in this article. A mental illness is not a sign of weakness -- they are disorders that affect your mood, thinking and your behavior and usually have more than one cause such as your family history, your current environment and lifestyle choices. Let's look past the labels and help those who are struggling.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This year's focus is "Life with a Mental Illness." According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family. As for the Air Force, one in 10 active-duty members reported untreated mental health problems.

If this article resonates with you in any way, please act on it -- whether it's checking in with a fellow Airman, looking out for a family member, or seeking guidance for yourself. Seek help early. Don't wait. Please consider the impact of not taking that first step for yourself, your family and your career.


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