World Mental Health Day: Dealing with Invisible Diseases

World Mental Health Day: Dealing with Invisible Diseases

Editor’s Note: This article has been published anonymously in order to preserve the author’s privacy. 

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, created in 1992 to increase global awareness and advocacy for mental health problems. It’s a noble goal for an incredibly serious issue. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 16 million people in the United States suffered from a depressive episode in 2015, and over 40,000 Americans committed suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death. Members of our armed forces are more likely to commit suicide than be killed in action.

It’s important to remember that not everyone who commits suicide has a mental health issue, and not all people with mental health issues are suicidal. But in the year 2012, 80% of people who reported experiencing a depressive episode did not seek help, making them significantly more susceptible to suicidal impulses.

It’s easier for people to ignore that depression exists because it’s a very subtle, almost invisible disease. In 2016, less than 4,000 Americans were diagnosed with Zika virus, and if the media panic was to be believed, the other 99.99% of the population was soon to follow. Yet there’s no media concern over a disease that year after year affects 4,000 times more Americans: depression.

On Presbyterian College’s campus, that would mean roughly 70 students are suffering from depression. Imagine if instead of depression it was something more visible; say, an open, bloody wound. Now imagine that 55 of them are doing nothing about it, quietly carrying on, hoping no one notices, and hoping the bleeding stops on its own.

That’s the current reality of mental health in this nation, a reality I have first-hand experience with. My father had all the symptoms of a mental health issue: manic mood swings, excessive sleeping, and intense sadness, which were all made worse by his alcoholism. But he was never diagnosed; in his own words, he didn’t trust doctors. “Bunch of lying crooks,” he called them.

He committed suicide by prescription drug overdose on Christmas Eve of last year.

It would be easy to blame myself for his death. I hadn’t spoken to him for eight months before his suicide. The last time we spoke was, coincidentally, another holiday, Valentine’s Day. He told me he felt like he wanted to die and that he wanted to say goodbye before he did it. I had a friend call the police while I desperately tried to keep him talking. Once the police arrived, and then left, unable to do anything, my father told me that if I ever called the police on him again, he’d blow his head off and it would be all my fault.

That was the culmination of twenty years of constant emotional abuse. On that day I promised him I’d never speak to him again until he showed me a one-month-sober chip from Alcoholics Anonymous. And I kept my promise.

I can’t hold myself responsible, just as anyone who has ever lost a loved one to mental illness shouldn’t. Because no matter how much support you offer, the ultimate decision to seek help is theirs alone. What we can as a nation, though, is to better educate ourselves on the realities of mental health, and how to better help the millions silently suffering. Indeed, if we are ever to temper the destructiveness of this invisible epidemic, we must.