Look around the room. Are you near five people? If so, would you be surprised to learn that one in five Americans lives with a mental illness?* It's important to know that a mental illness does not need to be a barrier to living a full life. Throughout the year and especially through Mental Health Awareness Month, DES needs your help to #breakthestigma about this invisible ailment that affects so many.
While there are those who have learned to live with a mental illness, so many others still suffer silently without getting properly diagnosed or utilizing the many resources available to them. The DES Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services (DERS) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program has resources to help individuals living with mental illness thrive in school and the workplace, and live independently, despite their mental illness. DERS also provides services to individuals dealing with serious mental illness (SMI) who either live in or utilize the resources of many behavioral health clinics throughout the state.
DERS clients like PollyAnna Crum-Queen, utilize VR services to complete educational goals. Crum-Queen has a mental illness and has successfully achieved her associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees through self-advocacy, tenacity and the help of VR resources like specialized equipment and counseling. For her, successfully living with a mental illness involves talking about it and asking for help when it's needed. "I know what my strengths and weaknesses are," said Crum-Queen who tends to emphasize her strengths and seek assistance for her shortfalls. In school, Crum-Queen survived by telling her professors about her illness, which resulted in more time on tests, help from tutors and other support.
Crum-Queen considers her mental illness a blessing because it has provided her the opportunity to help herself and others. She recommends people who struggle with a mental illness seek therapy and consider medication.
"We can do anything we want to; we just can't be afraid to ask for what we need," says Crum-Queen. "We all have our ‘blue days,' but when they continue for days on end, then it's a problem."
However, anyone who deals with what Crum-Queen considers a "blessing" like a mental illness can tell you that often it's hard to recognize when you're having a problem. Keeping a journal or utilizing a mental health app like Booster Buddy or Wysa can help you to track your moods and feelings. If you notice that bad feelings have lasted more than five days in a row then talk to a behavior health professional. In Arizona, help can be found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness Arizona website or the Mental Health America of Arizona website.
This year, Mental Health Awareness Month advocates urge the public to not only seek help if they suspect that they are experiencing a mental illness, but to also talk about this ailment without shame.
Crum-Queen agrees. "Our mind is an organ in our body; it's no different than the heart. So what if our brains function a little different? Some people's hearts function a little differently."
For more information about the DES VR program, please visit our Rehabilitation Services page.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in crisis, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text "Connect" to 741741. If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, learn about the warning signs.
Find free mental health resources in Arizona.
*Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
By Jillian Seamans