Mental Health hits home: Part One of a five-part series offering local perspectives as May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month

by Dwight Jones

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness and reduce the stigma that often surrounds this horrible disease. Talking about mental health and/or acknowledging you or someone you know may have a problem is definitely more acceptable than it has been throughout history, but it is still a difficult subject to talk about and even harder to understand.

In order to try to better understand mental health and how it effects local families, The Standard is planning to run a five-part series throughout the month of May that will look at the disease from different viewpoints - from those who fought the disease and have thus far overcome it, and also tell the stories that unfortunately had tragic endings.

We’ll talk to local professionals and law enforcement officials to try to understand how this growing problem affects their day-to-day responsibilities. We’ll delve in to the discussion on whether mental health is driven by genetics, life situations or something else entirely.

At the end of the day, mental health either has or will, at some point in our lives, affect us or someone we know. The more we can understand, the better off we all will be.

Part One of this five-part series tells the story of Madison (not her real name), a 19-year-old college student who grew up locally. Madison has dealt with mental health issues since middle school and has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. We recently sat down with her to hear her story.

Madison comes from a home with both parents and older siblings. She cannot explain exactly when or why her mental health issues began, but she believes they originated out of her perceived need to receive attention and approval from her parents.

Throughout her middle school years, she explains that her insecurities grew, and she developed a need to feel like people liked her. She used sports, good grades and whatever else she could to be recognized in a positive way by her parents, peers and teachers.

Upon entering high school, the anxiety grew but was never talked about. When asked to describe what her anxiety felt like, Madison explained that though it came entirely from mental thoughts, its effects felt physical and would include a tight chest, difficulty breathing, shaky hands and loss of appetite. Thoughts and worries became crippling.

Madison describes having daily panic attacks while at school, hiding out in a bathroom stall and sobbing for no apparent reason. The thought of visiting any public setting was overwhelming, which caused her to start to miss school, the result of which was her grades began to suffer, neither of which had ever occurred for her before.

As is often the case, at some point depression worked its way into the equation, up to and including thoughts of suicide. Strangely, Madison explains that through all of these struggles, many of which should have been red flags to friends, teachers and family that something was going on, no one asked so she never told.

She describes her depression as feeling “numb” without the ability to really feel anything at all, good or bad. She describes having moments of passive suicidal thoughts, which is a desire to die without a plan on how to get there.

There was one particular night when things had spiraled to the point where Madison was thinking about driving to the hospital because she felt like she was going to hurt herself. She didn’t follow through with that, but did make a phone call to her parents explaining for the first time ever to them, or anyone, that she needed help.

Madison’s road to recovery started with an appointment with her family doctor who started her on anxiety medication. Medication definitely helped, but according to Madison, there are some things it cannot fix.

She then had her first appointment with a local therapist, and this was when the real healing began. Madison describes starting therapy as “the best decision I’ve ever made”. She would continue seeing her therapist for approximately one year, early on twice or three times a week, where they worked through things she explains she didn’t even know were issues, things that were causing her anxiety or sadness that she wasn’t even aware of.

Madison explains that her therapist has provided her the tools to calm herself when she feels anxiety creeping up on her. She’s learned how to deal with life issues in a way she never could have figured out on her own.

Interestingly, when asked how much talking she did in comparison to her therapist during visits, she estimated 10% therapist/90% Madison. The therapist knew the right questions to ask for Madison to be allowed to answer, self reflect and heal.

Madison said that when her depression was active, all she wanted to do was sleep. Now that she’s recovered, she wakes up every day thankful to be alive.

When asked what she contributed to successfully overcoming her mental health issues, Madison estimated 20% medication, 50% therapy and the remaining 30% being the open and honest discussions and support she’s received from friends and family.

In closing, Madison stated that when trying to overcome mental health issues, “no one is responsible for your healing but yourself”. Friends and family can recognize someone has a problem, but the person suffering from the illness has to at some point recognize it as well and agree to seek help.

This is where it can become difficult, because the very effects of mental illness may skew or alter someone’s ability to recognize or acknowledge their own need for help.

If you or someone you know has mental health concerns, there is a wide variety of resources where help and information can be found. Follow Madison’s lead and make an appointment with your family doctor or see a therapist. Also, the National Institute of Mental Health has a website with a tremendous amount of helpful information that can be found at In severe cases, dial 988 from any phone to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offered 24 hours of every day through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.