Jeff Elhart: We need to stop oversimplifying symptoms of mental health distress

·4 min read

Today’s article is the third highlighting a peek into my new book called “Be Nice: 4 Simple Steps to Recognize Depression and Prevent Suicide.” Over the next several months, you will read excerpts from the book with hopes that you might invest in a book for yourself and your family. The book can be acquired at benicebook.org. All net proceeds go to support the be nice. Action plan in schools, faith communities and businesses in the West Michigan area.

When we think of someone stuck in depression, we hear silence.

The acrostic Be Nice is easy to understand and implement in a crisis situation. Not only does it improve lives, it can save lives, too. Be Nice has changed my life and the lives of many others. It is changing the way people think about and respond to mental illness, depression, and potential suicide.

Jeff Elhart
Jeff Elhart

The fact that one out of every four people in the world will suffer with some level of depression or mental illness this year, and that nearly one-half of those people will not seek or receive professional treatment, demands a large-scale response. Depression is a painful but unaddressed illness for those who have it; it’s an invisible one for those who don’t. That has to change.

That’s where we all have an opportunity to help — to arm ourselves with the tools we need to address this illness and help those who are struggling with it. It begins with our loved ones but should extend to friends and acquaintances wherever we’re engaged in our communities. That’s where you come in. I didn’t know how to help Wayne at the time. You have the opportunity to arm yourself with the tools that can help yourself and others.

After reading this book, I am convinced that you will be equipped as I am with the easiest action plan to help change, improve and save lives from depression and suicide. My hope is that you will help me to carry out my brother Wayne’s wishes as well as so many others who have succumbed to mental illness by suicide to help others overcome the illness of depression before it takes more lives.

Millions of people are directly affected by mental illness each year. Millions more are affected by association with loved ones struggling with depression, anxiety or some other mental illness. Virtually everyone is touched.

It’s important to understand that, if mental illness is seen as an uncommon experience, it will continue to be addressed only by specialists and those directly affected. But if we recognize how common it is, it becomes an important issue for all of us. Our whole society needs to understand the psychological, physical, social, and financial impacts of this type of illness. Those struggling need to understand that they are not alone — and certainly not rare oddities. Just knowing the numbers puts us in a position to raise awareness, remove the stigma, and advocate for better care.

Today we have a much better understanding of how the human brain works and how to treat mental illnesses effectively. Neurologists still recognize that there are vast areas of knowledge about mental health that we still lack, but we also have many effective treatments and much more compassion toward those who are suffering than many earlier generations have had. Human beings have tended to marginalize threats and problems they don’t understand, but with understanding comes a willingness to embrace the challenge and seek solutions.

People who struggle with depression have been blamed for being “moody” or melancholy and often told to cheer up or get over it. This is an enormous oversimplification and dismissal of the problem. Depression has been misunderstood and unacknowledged as a real issue. It is an illness that can be mild, moderate, or severe. At its most severe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it can even be as disabling as quadriplegia.

Depression is often accompanied by a loss of sleep, appetite, interest or enjoyment, energy, sense of self-worth, and/or concentration. These symptoms are generally considered a depressive episode if they last for at least two weeks. Sometimes they recur repeatedly over time (Recurrent Depressive Disorder), and sometimes they alternate with normal moods and manic episodes (Bipolar Affective Disorder). In severely depressive episodes, the sufferer has difficulty continuing with work or other normal activities.

Depression is not the result of strictly psychological factors; biology, social interactions, and circumstances can all contribute to the condition. People who have experienced psychological trauma or adverse life events (the death of a loved one, loss of a job, abuse, bankruptcy, health crises, etc.) are more likely to become depressed, but depression can happen to anyone.

See you next month as we continue to uncover the "4 Simple Steps to Recognize Depression and Prevent Suicide."

— Community Columnist Jeff Elhart is Playground Director II of the Elhart Automotive Campus in Holland. For more information, contact benice@elhart.com.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Jeff Elhart: We need to stop oversimplifying symptoms of mental health distress

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