On Mental Health Awareness

I never met my grandfather. My dad told me the little I know about him. He was a hard worker who owned and operated a successful lumber business. Dad recalled that they were the first family in their small rural town to own an automobile. Although my dad was only five or six years of age, he has vivid recollection of the day his dad fell from a lumber wagon, sustaining a severe head injury. His dad was ultimately admitted to a state mental hospital and died a short time later. His cause of death was recorded as “an insane man”.

I remember my great grandmother on the other side of our family quite well. She was in her late eighties/early nineties when she came to live with us. I don’t recall how we referred to her mental illness at that time—today we would know it as Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition that her daughter (my grandmother) and her granddaughter (my mother) would each in time experience.

It is the rare family that hasn’t experienced mental illness among its members. Anxiety, depression, anorexia, autism, bipolar disease, substance use disorders—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) list, describe, and classify hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mental, emotional, and psychological diagnoses.

Mental illness is non-discriminatory. It is no respecter of persons, affecting young and old, rich and poor, educated or illiterate, famous and not.  Symptoms are often subtle, insidious, adopting disguises that render those who are affected unable to recognize their own symptoms as anything out of the ordinary. Signs of mental illness are too often denied, ignored, or passed over as an innocent and/or transient phase, delaying assessment and treatment.

May is designated as Mental Health Month. Now is a good time to step up, speak out, acknowledge the possibility of mental illness in our own circle of influence, seek help, and encourage our families and friends to do the same.

Ted Hamilton, MD
Chairman and Senior Advisor

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