The phone rang and my heart raced. The call came from Cook County Jail, and my friend who had been missing for a few days used her one phone call to let me know where she was. “Ashley? It’s Alex. I’m in jail. I broke into my ex-boyfriend’s house, and he called the cops on me. They said I hurt him. I don’t remember doing that. I don’t know why I’m in here.” She was crying hysterically. I remember being so relieved to hear her voice, but also heartbroken to hear that she had been arrested.
Alex was at one point my best friend. I met her in high school and we quickly became inseparable. I really thought that Alex and I would be friends forever, but Alex’s mental illness loomed over our relationship in the years to follow. As a teenager, Alex was diagnosed with depression that she battled every day. Over the years, Alex’s mental health got progressively worse. By age 20, Alex was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Despite her new diagnosis, Alex succumbed to the pressures of college drinking and began putting herself in risky situations. At some point, she stopped taking her prescribed medications and seeking professional help altogether. Unfortunately, it was not until Alex ended up in jail that she finally got the help that she needed. It was then and there that she was able to understand how bad things had gotten for her, which allowed her to open new pathways to recovery.
Alex’s struggle with her mental health is one story of millions of stories across the country. Going through this experience with her helped me understand how important it is to keep up with mental wellness and proactively seek help if needed. According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness, however. Mental wellness revolves around many factors including self-esteem, our support systems, our daily stressors, and even our own physical health.
According to the CDC mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. It has even been said that mental illnesses, like depression, increase the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Mental illnesses can develop in an individual at any age depending on different factors. Usually, when the demands placed on a person exceed their own resources and coping abilities, their mental health could be impacted.
What should you do if you are worried about your mental health? The first step is understanding that mental illness is common. In fact, more than 50% of individuals worldwide will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. If you are concerned about your mental health, do not hesitate to seek advice. Many people who have mental health disorders consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of life or avoid treatment out of shame or fear. Consult your primary care doctor or make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. It may be important for you to find a professional who is familiar with your history or who demonstrates a relevant understanding to your experiences and life story.
With the appropriate support, mental health conditions can be properly diagnosed, and an individual can receive appropriate treatment, such as medications or counseling. Most individuals who seek