Today is May 27th and it has a particular special meaning to me because 43 years ago, on this day, my brother Aaron White was born. Happy Birthday bro, love you lots! While today remains a special day to me, it is also a bitter and sad day as well. It was on October 4th 2014 when I received what was one of the worst calls of my life. My mother was on the end of the line with a simple, horrible message- my brother had sometime in the prior two days took his own life. My heart was torn apart, and I couldn’t breathe. All I could think of was- how could this happen? What went wrong and why? How did my family and I miss the signs? Perhaps the most torturous part of this all is thinking about my brother and what he must have been undergoing to lead to such a devastating, and final act in life.
Now it has taken me almost four years to begin to accept the impact of this event, and even then I can’t pretend that I have even close to understanding as to what happened. My brother’s death had obviously changed my life, but it has especially changed my view on mental disorders and charged me to find real, viable solutions to a growing problem. As a an acupuncturist and an Emergency Medical Technician, I have seen my share of mental health situations , and what I do know is that the issue of mental health is something that needs to be seriously addressed in order to successfully move forward in this fight.
Ironically May is National Mental Health awareness month and it important that we all have a discussion on the issues of mental health disorders because the following statistics are an indication that something needs to be done. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2016, one in six adults in America was diagnosed with some form of mental health disorder (almost 45 million Americans), and there are perhaps millions of others that went undiagnosed (1). Other sources report that depression is the leading cause of disability in among people ages 15-44 (3), 40 million people in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety (2), and that the rate of mental health disorders are on the rise in our youth (4). Suicide is listed as the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S., claiming nearly 45,000 lives a year (5). Colorado specifically listed almost 1100 deaths caused by suicide in 2016 (6). When broken down into different subgroups, suicide alarmingly becomes the eighth leading cause of death in 55 - 65 year olds, the fourth leading cause of death in 35 – 55 year olds, and the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10 - 25. With numbers like these it is imperative that we put in the effort to change these statistics, because it is most likely that everyone reading this article knows someone who suffers from a mental health disorder.
One of the greatest challenges that all healthcare practitioners face with the issue of mental health is that we are not entirely sure what the actual problem is. While there are a number of scientific leads that can help us better understand the processes behind mental health disorders, there are not any definitive answers to the cause of mental health disorders. This being the case makes it difficult to effectively treat mental health disorders. Although definitive answers are hard to find, there still exists an understanding into many of the patterns related to mental health disorders. By utilizing this understanding, healthcare practitioner can have a positive effect on changing the overall negative pattern that the patient may be in.
Perhaps the first fundamental change that needs to happen is in the way we as a society see mental health. There is a definitive negative stigma surrounding mental disorders and that people with mental health issues are “just crazy” and that there is little that we can do about that. Now changing this stigma can be extremely difficult to change because people with mental health disorder can be extremely difficult to deal with! However, it is through this difficulty that we as a society need to endure, because people with mental health disorders are not just “crazy”, but just trying to be heard. I don’t think that anyone chooses this particular path in life.
What can be done? This is another great question and a great challenge. It seems that a combination of different therapies can be effective to help someone to get back in to balance. Such therapies can include acupuncture, psychotherapy, herbal medications, western medications, EMDR, etc. As an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, I find that these therapies can really help relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety, which can be major contributive factors to mental health disorders. However, I believe that a conjunctive approach with a mental health professional is highly beneficial to achieve the greatest results. I’m sure there are several different ways possible to find the ideal balance. Below are several resources I have found that can help you to get a better understanding on mental health disorders and ways that you can help the situation.
Mental Health Information:
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Acupuncture for Mental health disorders:
- Acupuncture, Anxiety & Depression
- Acupuncture Effective in Treatment of Mental Illness
- Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases
Although there are not enough answers to a hard problem, I am hoping to spark a greater awareness and conversation about mental health disorders. I encourage that you share your stories or thoughts on this subject so that we can continue to strive towards a better mental health existence. Although it is too late to help my brother and the millions of others lost to mental health disorders, it is not too late for those currently suffering from a mental health disorder, so become aware and keep the conversation alive.