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WRITE TEAM: COVID-19 and mental health/addiction impact

Did you know May is National Mental Health Awareness Month? It is timely, considering the current COVID-19 situation, which can present challenges for those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety, often coupled with alcoholism or drug addiction.

If you told me, back when I graduated from Illinois State University, that I would lose everything: wife, license, cars, apartments, career, and be jailed and homeless, I would have called you crazy! But I would go crazy; unaware that the underlying reason was my undiagnosed (at the time) clinical depression, anxiety disorder and subsequent alcoholism.

In hindsight, I can remember the specific moment when I felt the onset of my depression. I had recently received my acceptance letter from ISU. I was doing homework. Minding my own business. When out of the blue, a wave of melancholy and loneliness invaded me. Just washed over me. My anxiety did not attack so conspicuously. But by my senior year of college I was self-medicating (with beer) to the point of alcoholism.

It took my first DUI and an AA meeting to uncover these truths about myself. I wish I would have sought help early on. But I had lost so much so fast, I truly did not care about living anymore. Life just continued to spiral downward. But as “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll said, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Although a stigma still exists, seeking help for mental health or addiction has shifted to be regarded as a courageous, respectable process. With good reason. Mental illness is among the most common of all diseases, with an estimated 18.1% (43.6 million) of U.S. adults ages 18 years or older suffering from any mental illness, accounting for 18.7% of all years of life lost to disability and premature mortality. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Twenty-three million Americans are addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs. Only 1 in 10 of them (2.6 million) receives the treatment they need. The result: a treatment gap of more than 20 million Americans.

I have explored many avenues of mental health treatment over the years and can attest it exists for everyone, whether you’re experiencing distress in one or more areas of your life or to those of you already diagnosed with a mental illness. If you’re living with mental health problems, from mild to severe, do not be afraid to seek treatment to regain your emotional health and well-being.

Although treatment does not fully get rid of or cure mental illness, it does go a long way in helping you build coping skills and strategies to take charge of your life once again. Mental health treatment is not just about fixing problems; it is about creating a life of wellness despite problems.

I found a quote in my sober journal recently that I found inspiring. A loved one told someone seeking help, “I accept who you were; I love who you are; I respect who you’re turning into, and I admire who you will become.”

My next column: Something lighter. Hopefully, even make you smile, perhaps even giggle.

• Randy Biffany is a freelance writer living in Ottawa. He can be reached at tsloup@shawmedia.com.

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