Depression Awareness Written by Grace Wandia

October 14, 2019

Depression Awareness Day (mental health) was observed on the 10th of Oct. I was asked to speak to a class of 8- and 9-year old’s about mental and physical health in a school in my neighborhood. Initially, I thought the children were too young to understand the topic, but I was wrong. As young as they are, they totally related to the subject of mental health; some of them are already encountering it.

One teacher told me her son, who always looks forward to the annual Bible camp in their church, attended the camp twice, and on the third day, totally refused to go. The mother was quite surprised.  When she asked her son what was wrong, he flatly refused to tell her why he didn’t want to go. She later found out, after a lot of prodding, that a certain boy in the camp had bullied him badly- the reason he did not want to return. He told his mother that he was both scared and stressed about the bully, and would much rather, just stay home. The mother went with him to the camp the next day to report the bullying. Fortunately, she was able to resolve the issue, and her son stayed at camp. As young as these children are, they also get distressed when certain things happen. I showed them a picture (below) and most of them recognized that while the man looks happy on the outside, on the inside, he is sad and lonely.

Teaching the kids to be kind to their fellow students and not assume everyone is happy is very important. A child may be smiling, but inwardly, a lot of negative emotions could be going on. The kids identify with bullying a lot; most of them have experienced it either at school or home from their older siblings. Emphasis is put on the teachers to recognize when a child looks stressed out and to help them before the situation turns dire.

Some of the children suffer sexual abuse from trusted relatives, and they will never tell. They feel embarrassed and most are threatened with ominous consequences by the perpetrators. The thought of what is happening to them causes them to be scared and shame-based; most of them will become withdrawn. The teachers are able to pick up on this as they spend so much time with the students. The teachers need to report their observations to the parents, so the parents can conduct further investigations.

Even older adults need to take care of their mental health to ensure they don’t suffer a mental breakdown. As a community, it’s important to explore the topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and a sense of general wellness.

My son who has dyslexia has had to get a dog on campus as an emotional support animal. He is in his third year of college, and due to the academic demands, he often finds himself totally stressed out when he doesn’t feel he can finish his work on time or has difficulty understanding certain topics. He calls me emotionally drained, and sometimes, I pray with him over the phone to help calm him down. He has realized that going to the dog shelter, helping out, and walking the dogs helps keep him calm. He also rides a bicycle which calms his nerves when pressure builds up. He has been allowed to keep a dog as an emotional support animal at his apartment which helps him a great deal.

Many people suffer with mental health; the sad thing is there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness, so those suffering often don’t get the support they need. Traumatic life experiences like death, divorce, chronic health conditions, environmental factors like living in an abusive home, changing jobs or relocating from home, are some of the factors that exacerbate mental illness.

People with mental illness need a lot of help. Most tend to abuse drugs because they feel useless in life. They cannot cope with what is going on inside of them and resort to drug and substance abuse to try to ease their pain. Mrs. Doubtfire, a film acted by the famous Robin Williams, follows a recently divorced actor who dresses up as a female housekeeper to be able to interact with his children. The film addresses themes of divorce, separation, and the effect they have on a family. Robin Williams made a career out of making people laugh, but he was dying on the inside due to severe depression. He eventually committed suicide. Many people were shocked to learn he had battled mental illness for years; no one could have imagined that he was in deep anguish and despair. Mental illness needs to be given attention.  Like any other disease, it needs to be treated urgently.  Many people are dealing with mental illness, and without intervention, a time bomb could likely explode.

This December as part of our community outreach program, we will partner with a rehabilitation center that takes in patients with mental illness. They are doing a commendable job and it is important that their efforts be appreciated.

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