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Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

ElephantThere is an elephant in the room, and yesterday evening that elephant was all over the news. The unfortunate death of Robin Williams, someone that most of us knew as a gifted comedian, and actor shown a light on a sensitive and often taboo topic, mental health. defines mental health as:the psychological well-being and satisfactory adjustment to society and to the ordinary demands of life. Definitions can differ from person to person, community to community etc… but sound mental health is a necessary part of our overall well-being.

 We have fooled ourselves into thinking that because mental health is so elusive, comes with many questions but few answers, and often invisible to the naked eye that it is not real.  Unfortunately, the topic of mental health is still a taboo topic that everyone knows about but few will talk about, and that means that those who are diagnosed with mental health do not feel safe or supported enough to reach out or ask for help.

About a year ago I watched a TED clip about a young man suffering from depression, and his story really opened my eyes. My definition of depression was very simple: someone whom had experienced a traumatic event and was having trouble moving beyond that event and the feelings associated with it. Kevin Breel opened my eyes to depression and what I learned was enlightening and terrifying at the same time. Here is a link to the TED talk:

To gain a better understanding of those suffering from mental health, we need to reach out and listen to their stories, because only when we know what has happened can we truly understand, empathize and help.  Kevin Breel suffered from depression, he wasn’t having a bad day, all his days felt bad and he didn’t know why. Can you imagine feeling this way and not knowing why? What do you say when someone asks ” what is wrong?” It is in our nature to fix things, so we want answers to our questions: if you are not feeling well what is wrong, what has you depressed etc… In need to fix things we tend to focus on things that should make you happy e.g. friends, family, good job etc…, and our miracle cure you are fixed just focus on all the good things!

There are people who are suffering from  mental health and other issues in their lives, and they are lost maybe they tried to talk to someone(s) and they were told to get over it or that they had nothing to be upset about, maybe they have burned a lot of bridges and feel like there is no one to turn to, and in the end they turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. The end result is we all lose because we will never know the potential that these people had within them. Maybe they were destined to be a doctor and discover the cure to cancer, maybe they led a simple life, but made a huge impact on the life of someone else and that person impacted the lives of millions.

Robin Williams entertained millions of us with “Mork and Mindy”, “Good Will Hunting,” etc.. and we like to think that we knew him because we all but grew up with him, on television, through his movies etc.., you can even read about his life accomplishments, trials and tribulations on the web and Wikipedia, but we couldn’t help Robin because we didn’t really know him. There might be someone that we know who is suffering. We can help that person by: educating yourself on suicide symptoms and signs, take a suicide prevention course they are available online through the Search Institute , have a list of hotline numbers and other resources available, to refer someone for help. Remember that churches, spiritual leaders, friends and family also play an important role in helping someone in pain sometimes they just need to know that someone cares other times require intervention.

Lastly without focusing on strengthening the protective factors, resilience, and coping skills of our young, suicide and substance abuse will continue to be a revolving door. Get involved in a substance abuse coalition, educate yourself on the 40 developmental assets and how you can improve the lives of others around you, be a part of the solution.

If you are reading this and are suicidal there is help please call the National Suicide Hotline at : 1-800-273-8255, or the BoysTown Hotline at 1-800-448-3000, or their online chat

Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to all those families who have lost someone to suicide and or substance abuse.


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