The most recent statistics show that one in five people will experience mental illness during their lifetime, and it does not play favorites. No matter your age, economic status, educational level or ethnic background, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health.
The recognition of May as Mental Health Month began 70 years ago, and was started by the national organization Mental Health America. Mental health awareness is an issue that hits close to home for Angela Sattler, and she is determined to do whatever she can to help erase some of the stigma associated with mental illness.
She said she began noticing issues with her son when he was just in kindergarten, and his doctor at the time suspected the child may be Autistic. He was tested for both Autism and Aspergers as a first grader and both were ruled out. Unfortunately it took years to finally get a diagnosis that would prove to be the game changer for her son.
In the meantime, the boy had spiraled completely out of control behaviorally, had shut down and refused to talk to anyone and ran away from home. “By that point I felt totally helpless and desperate,” said Sattler. “I began just calling everyone and every place I could think of looking for help. The last call I made was to the Boys Town hotline. The lady said she completely understood what we were going through and said she knew exactly what we needed.”
Hopeful that she would finally get the help she so desperately sought for her son, Sattler ran into a snag with the insurance company who kept denying their request for treatment. “It took more than a month to get him admitted for residential treatment,” she said. “Police Chief Randy Olson was a huge supporter. Our final solution was to have him arrested and placed on probation – that’s the only way so many of these kids can get the help that they need.”
That has motivated Sattler to raise awareness not only for mental illness in general, but also for the painful and lengthy process so many have to endure just to get the help they need. Hers is not an isolated story.
“With a physical illness we do what we can to help people and the same should be true for mental illness. There are so many kids on probation, or worse, because of mental illness that was not treated.”
Her son has now been on the other side of his mental illness for about three years, and Sattler said he is doing very well. He has lots of friends, good grades, and plans to attend college. She is extremely proud of how far he has come - but is also very aware of the many parents and young people who are currently where she was.
Each year since his return home, Sattler has spearheaded an event during Mental Health Month, designed to raise awareness and provide hope. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event will be held virtually using ZOOM.
The virtual mental health awareness event will be held Thursday, May 21, from 1-6 p.m. Various providers will be available to speak with, and attendees will have an opportunity to chat with others who have shared similar experiences.
Individuals will be at Ehmen Park between 2-3 p.m. that day to hand out information bags curbside. This will be a no-contact event with all COVID-19 measures taken. There will also be a drawing for a $20 gift card during the ZOOM meeting. For more information on the event contact: email@example.com.
“My heart behind this event is to help others find the resources they need to get them through this,” Sattler said. “I just don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we did.”
There are practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency - and there are ways that everyone can be supportive of friends, family, and co-workers who are struggling with life’s challenges or their mental health.
During Mental Health Month, Gothenburg Health’s Senior Life Solutions Program is exploring topics that can help individuals build their own set of #Tools2Thrive - recognizing and owning one’s feelings; finding the positive after loss; connecting with others; eliminating toxic influences; creating healthy routines; and supporting others - all as ways to boost the mental health and general wellness of individuals and their loved ones.
“When it comes to your feelings, it can be easy to get caught up in your emotions as you are feeling them,” said Cassie Hilbers, SLS program director, in a recent press release. “Most people don’t think about what emotions they are dealing with, but taking the time to identify what you’re feeling can help you to better cope with challenging situations. It’s okay to give yourself permission to feel.”
MHA has developed a series of fact sheets (available at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may) to help people understand how to balance between work and play, the ups and downs of life, and physical health and mental health – and set yourself on the path to recovery.
“For each of us, the tools we use to keep us mentally healthy will be unique. Mental illnesses are real, and recovery is possible,” concluded Hilbers. “Finding what works for you may not be easy, but can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes.”