Guest Column: There’s always a light somewhere in the darkness

Published 7:37 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin

 

There have been many articles in the paper this month bringing awareness of mental illness and the impact it has on the lives of our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, spouses and greater community.

It is so important to be aware — of what mental illness is and the many ways it may impact a person’s life, the resources available to help — and what we can each do to make it OK.

Our community has experienced great sadness recently, and sometimes it’s hard to come to terms with the depth of emotions that emerge. We want to find answers — we may let anger overcome us and choose to find someone to blame. But this never helps resolve the depth of what needs to heal inside each of us and how we need to heal as a community. During times like this, we truly do need each other.

The challenge with mental illness is that it’s isolating. With any other disease like cancer, Alzheimer’s or diabetes, the community rallies around the person or the family. Stories are shared, help is given and people have others to turn to when things get hard. This is essential; it is healing.

We talk openly about the challenges with physical illness, because so many others speak openly about their challenges. With mental illness, the story is often different. People can become isolated, whether others choose to isolate them or they choose to isolate themselves. Mental illness is real, and so many people are living with a mental illness, but as a community we aren’t ready to acknowledge it and we don’t have the tools to know how to help.

We talk about the stigma associated with mental illness, but this is simplifying the reality. In truth, we discriminate against people who are living with a mental illness, and that is not OK. However, we don’t have to be that way.

People wait to seek help because they are afraid of having a diagnosis. They don’t want to have a label, like you get with other illnesses — because they are worried it will be used against them or people will think differently of them.

We need to find a way to move beyond our discrimination so people can speak up when they are struggling, seek help when they need it, find resources to cope and have a network of support when they are ready.

As a community, we need to continue to ask “How are you?” And mean it. But we also need to realize it’s not up to us to fix people — or solve their challenges. We can be present with them, walk alongside each other on this journey, be there — in any way we can.

When you’re having a rough day and someone asks “How are you,” be honest. You can say, “I’m having a rough day, but it’s not up to you to fix it.” This will help create honest dialogue about the reality of what we are living through, and how people can help.

Some days, people may need a safe place to vent, a cup of tea or a ride to an appointment.

Simple acts of kindness go a long way — but it’s not all that is needed. We must also acknowledge that times are tough for people, and it can seem like there are no options. Sometimes people feel like they are in purgatory — and it may feel like it will be that way forever.

When tragedy happens, we can pause, take a step back and try to see things clearly.

If someone is isolating themselves — reach out, as you are able. Let people know you will be there when they are ready. Let love guide you and realize you are only part of someone’s story.

We can only do what we are able, to help each other. The most important truth to share is we are never alone. There is always a light somewhere in the darkness — and we can do our part to shine the light we have, even if it is dim at times — and help others find the light that resides within.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.