EDITORIAL:Â MENTAL HEALTH STARTS WITH RECOGNITION
The juxtaposition between “The joy of being jolly” printed this week as a historical piece from 1902 and the two guest columns written by rural Freeman resident Ashley Holzwarth dealing with mental health struggles that appeared in the past two issues of The Courier couldn’t be more striking.
The former from 120 years ago urges everybody to “smile on, smile ever,” to “quarantine your feelings,” and that “people with ‘bad spells on them’ and the ‘dismals’ will cheer up, be chirk and get well.’”
If only it was that easy.
While the intent of the unknown writer was likely along the lines of “a smile is better than a frown” and a rally against perennial grumblers, the subtle suggestion that you can just pretend your ill feelings away is dangerous, especially given what we have come to learn about mental health, depression and suicide.
As Ashley articulated so well in her two pieces — “I applied a filter to my depression” published last week and “Be a guiding light” the week before — just because somebody wears a smile and a sunny disposition doesn’t necessarily mean that they are well.
“If I could just walk out the door and vanish into thin air, I would in a heartbeat,” she said to her husband in the throes of hidden despair, “something I have dealt with intermittently for years. I do my best to keep my life together no matter how much I feel like it is falling apart … opening up to people requires a vulnerability that I struggle with.”
Well, not only did Ashley feel a desire to open up to people, but she did so courageously and for the whole world to see — which took vulnerability and guts.
While attention to mental health struggles falls far short of how closely we pay attention to our physical health, it has thankfully become something people are beginning to talk about more and more all the time. And that has revealed just how serious an issue it is — and probably always was.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 out of 5 adults living in the United States experience mental illness every year and 1 out of 20 experience serious mental illness. Among youth, 1 out of 6 who are age 6 to 17 live with mental health struggles each year; suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34; and 75% of those who live with the disorder have done so since the age of 24.
As Ashley so poignantly indicated in her columns, recognizing the problem and stating it out loud is the first step toward healing and can go a long way toward restored health — or at least a version of it.
While “the duty of being jolly” is great in theory, and while those who find a problem with everything leave something to be desired, it’s not always that easy. We should care about the health of our mind as much as we care about the health of our body.
If you are struggling, talk to your doctor. Or a friend. And if you feel like that person isn’t there, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or chat at 988lifeline.org.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher