Mental Health Month: The Elephant in the Room

As we begin the month of May, it's important to acknowledge that the month is also nationally recognized as Mental Health Month, aimed at bringing awareness to mental health issues and resources. While a lot of progress has been made in helping to reduce the stigma and provide resources to individuals, it can often be a topic that is difficult for people to discuss for a variety of reasons... I Photo of Beth Ripperger sitting by chalk art that says, "Believe in Yourself."know this, because I used to be one of those people. 

Below are just a few of the many resources that are available, whether you're someone who is seeking help for yourself or if you're someone who is trying to assist a friend or loved one, along with my own personal story of how I was eventually able to ask for help. It's always important to consult with your doctor or consult a professional right away if you are experiencing any mental health issues.

1. Harper's Employee Assistance Program offers short-term counseling sessions for employees. You can log into www.wseap.com using the password Harper to learn more or you can talk with a professional counselor directly about any challenges you may be experiencing at work or home by calling 877-215-6614.

2. Mental Health America (MHA) offers Tools 2 Thrive, which provides practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency regardless of the situations they are dealing with. MHA also offers free, virtual mental health screenings.

3. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (Northwest Suburban) is affiliated with NAMI National and NAMI Illinois, giving its members support, education and advocacy at three levels: local, state and national. Their mission is to provide support, education, advocacy, and resources to those who suffer from neurobiological brain disorders and their families.  

4. The Employee Assistance Program also offers Aware, which is a unique research-based program that is an alternative modality of support for participants experiencing life stress, pain and challenges with focus and concentration. Through 6 weekly telephonic sessions, MBSR-trained health and wellness professionals provide one-on-one support and supply electronic resources for self-guided individual practice. Harper Employees can call 877-215-6614 to learn more or can access this information on the website.

5. Veteran's Crisis Line helps veterans connect with caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. 

6. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

7. If an employee is concerned about a student's mental health, visit https://www.harpercollege.edu/services/counseling/index.php for more information.

Elephant in the Room

During the Summer of 2017 I felt "off" with my overall mood and mental health. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I didn't feel like myself mentally. Something was very different, but I wasn't certain what to do about it. I was regularly exercising, eating healthy for the most part, keeping up with my social connections, sleeping enough and I had even taken a relaxing vacation in Colorado that was full of sunshine and hiking. However, no matter the various lifestyle change or remedies I tried on my own, things didn't seem to get much better for me. Months went by and I was still struggling with my mental health. On the outside, I was still my positive and happy self, Photo of shoes standing by a chalk drawing with the words, "Have Hope."but on the inside, things weren't so great.  

I finally got the courage to open up to a friend that I trusted and told her what was going on. The conversation with my friend was the pivotal turning point for me because not only did she encourage me to take the first step in talking to my doctor, but it was comforting to learn through the conversation that I wasn't alone as she disclosed that she previously reached out to her doctor about some mental health issues she was experiencing. Here was a person that I had known for may years yet had no idea that she had also been struggling with her mental health. For months prior to this conversation I was silently struggling and didn't reach out to my doctor and ask for help, because for whatever reason, I felt embarrassed about what was happening. I had some preconceived thoughts and ideas about what depression looked like in that I thought I knew what it looked like and would be able to spot it if it ever happened to me. I was wrong. In addition, being the person that I am, I thought I could just fight my way through it. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have asked for help earlier. Knowing someone else close to me that had gone through something similar was the comfort I didn't know I needed until the conversation I had with my friend. 

I know my situation isn't unique, and I know I am privileged in a lot of different ways, especially to have an employer that offers me access to a great insurance plan, which allows me to receive the help and assistance I need when I know many people out there struggle to gain access to various resources and treatments. For that, I am extremely grateful and fortunate.  However, the goal in sharing my story isn't because I would ever want to be treated differently. I don't want your sympathy. I don't want you to ever look at me differently. Instead, the purpose in sharing my story with others is because I want everyone to understand that it's OK to ask for help. You're not alone. It's OK to not be OK but you don't need to suffer in silence. It's not easy to ask for help, and it doesn't always mean things will automatically be better. It's important to know that there is hope and there are people and resources out there to assist you or others you may know who might be struggling. 

I certainly have my good and bad days just like many other people, but asking for help and admitting that I couldn't do this on my own was an important part of my mental health journey. Daily exercise, eating heathy, and sleeping enough are certainly just some of the many healthy coping strategies that are integral components in boosting and maintaining my mental health. However, I am one of those people out there who does rely on some sort of medication at times to feel better. It's taken years to even feel comfortable talking about my own mental health story out in the open, but I'm hoping my story can continue to break down the stigma. As a person in the wellness world who routinely advocates wellness for others, I found it extremely difficult to take my own advice. However, thanks to a good friend, I eventually received the extra assistance I needed to help make the elephant in the room feel a little bit smaller.

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