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Opening the dialogue on mental illness

Published: Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

In response to the tragic death of Robin Williams, a new dialogue about mental illness is beginning.

Depression, substance abuse and suicide are all topics being talked about more freely and willingly since the talented actor’s death. And, it is our duty to ourselves, our loved ones and our community to continue the dialogue about mental illness. Now is the time to cast a lifeline to those individuals facing depression, thoughts of suicide and other diagnoses – to let them know they are not alone before it is too late.

The reality is that many people in our own community lost their battle with mental illness, just as Robin Williams did. Since the beginning of the year, 13 McHenry County residents committed suicide. And although their deaths were not reported by national news outlets or immortalized in thousands of Facebook feeds, they are still mourned and grieved for.

Those 13 people are remembered by the ones that they were closest to – the parents, spouses, children and friends they left behind.

In the U.S. today, mental illness is so very prevalent. Unfortunately, almost no one is willing to talk about it. In McHenry County alone, one in five residents has a mental illness, but there still is shame when it comes to these disorders. If so many people are facing the same issues, why should they hide?

No one is saying, “I’m struggling.” In our society, it is difficult to admit that you need help because there is so much stigma surrounding seeking help and support.

Asking for help, though, is a sign of courage. It takes an honorable, strong person to be self-aware enough to see their own struggles and seek out help. We in the business of helping those with mental illnesses recognize that more public education needs to happen. We want people to know that they are not alone and that there are people that care and are ready to help.

I challenge you today to reach out to someone who seems to be struggling and let them know that you care about them and that there are places ready and willing to help them in their journey to feeling whole again.

In the coming weeks and months, help us keep the dialogue open. Join Pioneer Center for Human Services in its mission “to empower individuals to achieve their full potential” and rally behind people with mental illness.

• Emily LeFew is behavioral health adult manager at Pioneer Center for Human Services.

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