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Mental illnesses are not always fully understood, and people are less likely to share their suffering with others

It seems that when people gather to discuss societal issues, whether it is drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness or gun violence, mental health ultimately bubbles to the surface.

But when discussions turn to mental illness, what tends to follow is a conversation about how services are not sufficient and how the problem is not adequately addressed.

That clearly needs to change, especially given research that concludes 20 percent of people throughout the country face some sort of mental illness struggle. Fortunately, there is a vehicle for raising awareness, whether people realize it or not. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Locally, Lutheran Community Services Northwest provides the county mental health department with counseling and intellectual/developmental disabilities advocacy services for children, youth, adults and families. This month, Lutheran is joining a national movement to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness as well as the barriers to receiving mental health services.

Unlike chronic physical illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, mental illnesses are not always fully understood, and people are less likely to share their suffering with others. While some afflictions like PTSD and bipolar disorder have gotten more attention in recent years, it was still a big deal when two NBA all-stars shared their personal mental health struggles.

DeMar DeRozan went public first with his struggles with depression, which helped his colleague Kevin Love gather the courage to pen an article detailing his experiences with crippling panic attacks.

It was encouraging to see many peers and fans alike praise both athletes for sharing, particularly when they are part of a professional sports culture where athletes are expected to just suck it up and play ball. However, not all fan comments were positive and encouraging, calling the athletes in question mentally weak or worse.

Using this situation as an example, it seems that progress has been made, but there is definitely room for improvement. People need to be educated on what mental illness is so that they understand its impact and what it takes for people to overcome it. In addition, mental illness needs more attention so that when people suffer, they don't feel they need to hide it. As Crook County Mental Health Director Laura Placek says, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Locally, Lutheran Community Services is using Mental Health Awareness Month as a platform to roll out some new expansions and improvements to the services that they provide. This is good to see, and hopefully as services improve, people will take the time to not only educate themselves on mental illness in general, but on what local services are available.

Given how much mental illness can impact communities, the better citizens understand and professionals treat it, the better off Crook County will be.


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