Eight weeks ago, I started my second “School of Thought” series, “A personal view of Mental Health.” The series was seven weeks and a dive into my mental illness, Bipolar 2 disorder. Seven weeks seemed to like more than enough time to cover the topic, but I realized we hadn’t even scratched the surface, and our communities engaged during the seven weeks. Others came forward bravely with their experiences and expertise in hopes to touch a life, even one.
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May since 1949, started by the Mental Health American Organization to break the stigma for the millions of Americans who face the uncertain reality of living with a mental illness. A reality rarely talked about, making it a lonely road to navigate.
Whitewater Publications will join in the conversation during May as we continue with a mini-series called “Start the Conversation.”As a community, I hope to continue the movement to raise awareness, fight the stigma, educate the public and personally, advocate for policies that support those with mental illness and the loved ones who surround them.
Dr. Darrell Brimhall (my current doctor who has guided me through my mental health journey) shares his mental health story.
“So why do I love it? Why do I focus on it so? Well, it is the most common diagnosis among Americans. If you feel it is just folks wanting to feel sorry for themselves, enjoy that cave-man mentality or get some glasses that help you see all the beautiful yet trying struggles humankind faces.
I share because I’ve struggled with it for almost 30 years now.  I’ve struggled with suicidal thinking, planning that largely occurred in my early years. I couldn’t talk about it. Not only was it a ‘sin’ to think about, but it would also have cast me to hell—so I thought. Or I get strapped up in a strait-jacket like in the movies and get put in a wheelchair at some nice facility with green grass and colonial-style architecture, or I get put somewhere in a cage or padded room never to see the light of day (movies aren’t always helpful). I struggled with cutting in high school. I struggled to try to be as positive as I could but no matter how hard I tried, my default state would always drag me down to this gray-filled sky that frequently turned into dark stormy clouds I longed to escape. 
Who knew? I didn’t want people to know because I was ashamed? Well, sure, but why? I had it so good. My parents never divorced, I was never molested or in a gang, or grew up in a house of abuse. I never saw drugs in my home or drugs for that matter. I was bullied on end for not being the version of masculinity expected in jr. high and high school, but it wasn’t that. I was loved. I was cared for. 
This seesaw up and down decline occurred for years. When the means became available during a particular terrible part in my third year of medical school, I was going to do my family a favor, and the world a favor, by checking out. I carefully researched a life insurance policy that would provide the ‘good life’ for my family, for many years. Things were planned out well, and I’ll leave it at that, but something happened. There just became a point I realized this was terrible depression. Maybe I wasn’t just a sinful person. Maybe Jesus or God wasn’t just mad at me? A whole host of that negative self-talk I started questioning for who knows why. No one knew. My wife had known the depression was a struggle, but we didn’t even call it depression at that point. It was just a self-inflicted sadness because “Darrell couldn’t get it together and see the good in life.”
So, I sought help. Things have changed. The struggle is there, but I am far more equipped to fight that war inside me. Does prayer help? Sure, but I realize it’s a struggle because that is one of my trials in mortality. It does help refine me. I wouldn’t have pulled it off the shelf before this life and told God, “Oh give me this one.” But who knows? It comes with it’s curses and blessings, and for the kids and teens I see, this is something I try to teach almost more than anything else. 
I’ve said enough but have scratched the surface. It is all around us. It never occurs in isolation. When someone has it, I ask who has it in the family. There are only two answers to this from my end. The person was adopted and doesn’t know about their biological family. Answer #2, no one talks about it because of the shame and guilt or total lack of insight. It needs to be shared. One of the great goals and struggles of my life is to fight that stigma against mental health. Change the world? No, not a chance. Yet, if I can steer the little part of the world I live in and the folks in it, toward a better understanding that brings a little more love and a little more compassion, it is worth it. I’ve done this enough to turn people off, and they can’t imagine trusting a doctor who has struggled with such things. To you, I say good riddance if you can’t be open. To those who can potentially be helped or want to fight that stigma that tragically prevents compassion and good treatment to those who suffer, there is much worthy work to do, and how we carry about that work will have flavors, but they are all worth trying.’”
A special thank you to Dr. Brimhall for his bravery, his compassion, and perhaps, most importantly for blessing us by utilizing his gift.