As I drive out of my neighborhood, I see firetrucks, police and EMTs scramble to extinguish a house fire, rescue the residents and their pets. As the neighbors and I watch in shock, I’m wondering what happened to cause this house fire? Later, I find out the woman living in the home has a history of debilitating depression and substance abuse. It was uncertain if she intentionally ended her life or she passed out while smoking a cigarette. Our community was alarmed to think this could happen – that she could go unnoticed or untreated. We were collectively concerned as to who else in our community could be at risk.
As a child riding my bike through the neighborhood with my friends, I wondered why this man has stacks of newspapers in his carport and his yard looks unkempt for what seems to be years. I was curious if the aluminum foil on his windows was used to block the view from his neighbors so they can’t see his collection of garbage, or a way to block light from entering his home. Later, I found out the county intervened and evicted him, as the home was considered uninhabitable. The man exhibited symptoms of anxiety in the form of obsessive-compulsive behavior as well as paranoia. Looking back on his situation, there must have been years of emotional turmoil and a negative economic impact on the community-not to mention how he and his family must have suffered.
School employees describing the many students that come to school who are sleep deprived, nutritionally under served, anxious, depressed and unfocused. There are many factors that could contribute to this – the parent didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, the parent didn’t come home last night, or the parent needs to work three jobs to keep the heat on during winter. Whether it is the student, parent, first responder, family member, neighbor or you, mental illness does not discriminate. It is a brain disorder that impacts our community.
It is becoming more common for people to talk about being ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious’ without realizing that one in five adults/youths experience mental illness in a given year. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression is the leading cause of disability, which impacts individuals, families as well as the community. Mental illness is a medical condition that requires treatment. Communities that have access to outpatient treatment can reduce unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, suicide and mental health hospitalizations.
As with any medical condition, it is important to recognize the ripple effect that can occur when someone’s life when there is illness. The good news is that a community can rally together to support individuals and families to receive support and treatment. There is power when people come together to support the health of their community and support efforts to recognize mental illness and improve treatment opportunity. As people organize fund raisers, support organizations that provide treatment, volunteer and simply listen to their neighbors, community health increases.
Remember, you can make a difference in the lives of others.