Living with Mental Illness

Hi. My name is Michelle; I am the CEO of ShelterCare.

And I live with mental illness.

There’s so much stigma associated with mental illness that when a person is diagnosed with some kind of disorder–assuming they are willing to reach out to get a diagnosis–it adds to the already existing trauma they are facing. With so many assumptions and myths about what a “mentally ill” person is (or isn’t) it’s no surprise that many of us don’t ask for help.

And yet, mental illness is treatable and those of us who have a diagnosis can lead very full, productive lives with proper care. That care may include regular therapy, medication, diet, or other lifestyle adjustments. 

It isn’t that different from a person who suffers from diabetes and is treated through insulin, regular blood sugar checks, diet and exercise. Sometimes the person needs a little more attention, other times they have things pretty under control.

I have generalized anxiety disorder and atypical depression associated with chronic arthritis pain–though depending upon my doctor, one may cause the other.  I’m usually on top of my anxiety/depression with a healthy diet, regular exercise and occasional sessions with a counselor. But sometimes that’s not enough. Stressors that can trigger anxiety attacks and cycles of depression can come along unexpectedly, and aren’t always predictable. And they might not be what you’d expect! 

Those are the days and weeks I need a little more support, an extra therapy session, or a day off from work to recuperate.

No one feels ashamed of taking time to recover from an injury, illness, or disease, so they shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking care of their mental health either.

I’m lucky. I’m extremely lucky. Since I was a child, I have had a family that understands that mental health is as important as physical and dental health. I have a partner who recognizes the signs that my anxiety or depression are creeping up on me and helps me get support. Because of this support, I have been able to lead a pretty “normal” life, go to school, have stable relationships, and a challenging career.

Sadly, most people aren’t as lucky as me and that shouldn’t be acceptable. Too often, mental illness becomes a barrier to independence due to a lack of access to behavioral healthcare. Mental health becomes a barrier when a community devalues mental health, resulting in discrimination in access to housing, employment or education. 

None of which is legal.

But it happens. 

ShelterCare is known for its programs that provide housing, but what the public doesn’t know is that most people referred to our services are also dealing with some form of mental illness, which may be one root cause for them being unhoused. ShelterCare has a small in-house behavioral health program that provides services for those with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) who are or have been unhoused.

I share my story in an effort to break down the stigmas that exist around mental illness. The stigmas that our program participants and many others within our small community face. The more we talk about mental illness, the more we are able to normalize it and truly understand the needs and barriers of those who live with it.

If you or someone you love needs immediate help for a mental health crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for free 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also use the Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor who can provide support or information.

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