by Jayson Blair
As the grocery store aisles fill with candy and pumpkins begin appearing on suburban doorsteps, my mind turns to the ghosts and goblins of the month of October. Not the ones that hit the streets on Halloween. These are the ones that consume the minds of many who suffer from depression and seasonal affective disorder as night falls fast, as the leaves begin to fall, and the cool winds of winter are beating at the door of our lives.
I have always thought it fitting that October also includes Mental Illness Awareness Week. For me, there is no better month to be focused on my mental health, and I believe that this extends to many of us who suffer through bouts of depression and others who struggle with this particular change of season.
At our core, we all struggle with change. The change that comes from the season is one that is forced upon us, that we have no control of. And as frustrating as that might be and as futile as it might be to fight it, I have long felt that the toughest changes in life are the ones that we have to make a choice about me. The toughest one for me was the choice to get better.
As sad as it is to see people struggle this time of year, as someone who suffers with bipolar disorder and works as a mental health coach, it is heartening to see how many people make that choice to get better, especially how many people begin the process of being able to cope with living with their mental illness.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003 after an enormous scandal that involved fabrications and plagiarism in my reporting for The New York Times. It took the hammer of front page headlines, utter embarrassment, and the onset of a madness that I could not understand to pound me into humility. It was not until then that I was humble enough to accept that I needed help and to begin the process of making change. As a coach, it hardly surprises me that October is the month where we receive the greatest number of new clients. When darkness slams on us with all of its force, it can be humbling—sometimes enough so that we are willing to begin a journey that only months before we would not have imagined undertaking.
October provides a wonderful opportunity for those of us who work in the mental health community to help others through volunteering at a depression screening, advocating at the statehouse or in Washington, through an open hand and even a kind word that helps others make the change that, while frightening, might help them enjoy a quality of life that before they would have had a hard time imagining.
More than 350 million people across the world suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. That does not count the millions more who face anxiety and other disorders that we focus on during Mental Health Awareness Week. I view this time of year as not just a time to look out for mental health symptoms and take care of ourselves, but also as a time to reach many of those who are out there alone, still suffering.
I once wrote, on our company blog, of the season change that comes in October that, “Despite years of relative tranquility in comparison, I still worry each time Halloween comes around, when the night falls a little faster.” But I am also grateful—grateful for the opportunity to lend that helping hand and provide that kind word that for another person could be life changing.
We should be doing it every month, but this month gives us all an excuse to get in on something that can make all the difference to another human being.
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.