Almost a year ago, we launched Time to Talk, an in-depth look at the state of mental health in Douglas County. The series has explored the effects of mental illness on law enforcement, youth, moms, men, seniors and, by extension, families overall. It has looked at the effect of technology on young people’s emotional resilience, the heartbreak of youth suicide and the correlation between mental illness and substance abuse.
This week, the eight-part series wraps up with a focus on how businesses are responding to the challenge of mental illness on employees’ productivity and work quality.
The reporting of this complex and critical issue has been illuminating, educational and emotional. The willingness of area residents to share their personal and courageous stories has been inspiring — and hopeful.
While we’ve presented these stories to educate, during our reporting and editing we’ve learned a lot in the process, too:
• That mental illness does not discriminate: A community with a high quality of living and wealth doesn’t mean its residents have perfect mental health.
• Younger people are more open about their mental health than older generations.
• Mothers play a vital role in the family, and if their mental health is not OK, it’s difficult for them to care for others.
• Too many men, daunted by the stigma that accompanies male stereotypes, suffer their mental illness in silence.
• As we grow older, isolation often paves the way to depression and anxiety.
• Substance abuse almost always comes paired with a mental illness: The battle for stability requires even more support and perseverance for that person.
• What businesses can offer for mental health support matters because, as employees, we spend most of our waking hours in the workplace.
• Any threat of suicide must be taken seriously: If someone doesn’t seem OK, it’s more than OK to explicitly ask, “Are you OK?”
• Setting screen limits for teens is critical in this day and age.
• It’s important for parents to talk to their kids about what is happening on social media.
• People can set an example for those struggling with mental illness by talking about their own mental health.
• It’s so important for people to feel comfortable reaching out for help because mental illness can be treated or managed.
• People with mental illness need to know they are not alone and that so many others are going through similar experiences.
• People living with a mental health condition are incredibly resilient: Most don’t give up and still find ways to care for the people around them despite their internal struggles.
• The mental health system is difficult for everyone — the mentally ill, family members, providers — to navigate and understand.
While the work to create and provide support looms large, it’s also been encouraging to see the number of resources available to help people struggling with mental health issues.
But there is more work to be done.
The obstacles of stigma, cost, insurance, scarcity of programs and resources can only be overcome by a coordinated effort to raise awareness, promote conversation and provide help through accessible programs.
The Douglas County Mental Health Initiative is leading the way: A unique collaboration of 40 partners from public, private, faith-based and community sectors, it has been working for four years to identify gaps in mental health support and create resources to fill them.
As a community — and that includes our elected leaders who can help funnel the money and resources that make a difference — we need to follow that example: reaching out, building bridges, putting our caring into action.
Because the reality is we all know someone who has been affected by mental illness.