A mental health journey: ‘I have a lot to live for’

For most of her life, Carey says she has lived with severe depression. “I think it started before my teen years and as I got older, it progressed. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, “she recalled. By her mid-twenties, it was bad, she said, and she was spending more and more time alone. She said she’d also experienced abuse and was bullied in school and found it hard to trust people, adding to her sense of isolation. “I was hospitalized a few times,” said Carey. “I didn’t trust anyone, but if you don’t get out and try to talk to people, get to know them, see if you can trust them, you are very lonely.” Eventually, she says, she got the kind of help she needed. “I got involved in a day treatment program, therapy and support groups and I learned to trust again. It doesn’t help when you isolate. You’ve got to talk to someone,” she emphasized.

A 55-year-old Silver Bay resident, Carey is now a job coach who provides work-site support to people with mental health disabilities. “When I heard the position was open, I thought it was a way to pay it forward,” she said, “to share what I’ve learned along the way.” In return, Carey said, she has gained a sense of self confidence and self-esteem and wants to be an advocate for people with mental illness by speaking out to correct myths and stereotypes. Sam Gangi, project coordinator at the Human Development Center in Two Harbors, also seeks to dispel those misconceptions. “Anyone can experience mental illness,” he said. “It affects people of all socioeconomic groups, education levels, genders and ages … anyone can experience a mental health crisis or symptoms of mental illness in a lifetime.”

October 7-13 is Mental Health Awareness Week—adding to a month already designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month—all human experiences prevalent in our society, yet that have been kept silent or shrouded in misinformation. “There’s still a stigma and there shouldn’t be,” Carey said. “People have told me to keep my illness to myself—to be quiet about it, but the more people know about it, the more help they will find. People need to know there’s help.” According to the Johns-Hopkins Mental Health Disorder Statistics website: “An estimated 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (about one in four adults, or nearly 58 million) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” Chances are you know someone with a mental illness or disorder, such as depression, bi-polar disorder (sometimes called manic depression) or an anxiety disorder ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to phobias and post-traumatic stress.

As someone who has experienced mental illness as a youth and an adult, Carey says she’s passionate about spreading the word that there is help and there is hope. “If you’re scared,” she advises,” call someone. Call a friend—reach out to them. Talk to a family doctor, a social worker, school nurses and school counselors…professionals are more aware now. I wish I would have known that help existed when I was young.” According to Laura Olson, of Employment Connection at HDC, friends and family members need to learn all they can about the illness if they want to be supportive. “Do the research and understand what it means … how it’s going to affect a loved  one. It’s important to know what the condition is and what it is not,” she said, recommending the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, www.nami.org for more information.

After many years of struggle, Carey reports that she is hopeful. “I have a lot to live for and I am just beginning a whole new way of life. There is a reason for me to be alive. Maybe it is to help people that have a mental illness. I don’t know. I just know that I am where I am supposed to be now.”

Read her story here.

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