According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adult Americans experience mental illness. Depression is the leading cause of disability WORLDWIDE! Only 60% of adults with mental illness receive treatment and the percentage is half of that for African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death over all and the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the United States. Frankly, I find these statistics alarming. They testify starkly to the lack of awareness, accessibility to treatment, and our general understanding of how mental illness impacts our world, our people. In the fall of 1998, I began my education in Psychology. I accepted my first paid position in the field of social work that same year. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and I have worked in the mental health field for over 20 years. I have advocated for many with mental illness. I have experienced the aftermath of suicide and suicide attempts, drug addiction, disabling conditions, families torn apart, lives forever changed. There are stories I could tell you that would numb your mind, make you want to give up hope for humanity. But bigger than those are the stories of hope, endurance, and resiliency that have risen from those same tragedies. Yes, every client I saw, had successes. I found that the biggest battle in my career was not “dealing” with the difficulty of mental illness, but dealing with the barriers that are in place that prevent people from getting proper and unashamed treatment for their illness.
But this story starts before my college education and my fulfilling career in mental health. It is about a story behind the statistics. This is my story. Circa 1980, my beginning was set in a hailstorm of childhood trauma. Born to a teenage mother, an addict. Witness to criminal activity, domestic abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, poverty and drug/alcohol abuse. Labeled survivor, resilient, successful. Buried under all those experiences is the shrapnel of a silent war that no one likes to talk about. The shards of that past remain embedded in my very being. The visible wounds healed, most of the scars are unseen, but the damage remains. I was well into my adulthood before I received treatment for my mental illness. I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression that I left untreated out of shame, denial, embarrassment. But, hey, I was doing okay. No one could tell. Tears stayed behind closed doors. Nightmares stayed in the dark. Fear was covered by confidence. I remained entombed in a past unsaid. Facing those demons was the hardest thing I have ever done. I learned so much in therapy. I developed healthy ways to cope with my anxiety. I found myself. I learned “grounding” techniques that have helped me live life past my PTSD. I have real confidence now. I believe in myself. But, up until say about hmmmmmm…yesterday, I kept that a secret. People around me know my background, know my history. Those few who are close to me know a bit more. Those who live with me know that I receive treatment. But ironically I have kept a pretty tight lid on all of that. Me, the woman who has worked so hard to help others access care and to not be ashamed of their experiences…I preach over breaking silence and bringing awareness to others. Yet I kept my own so very quiet. Then, I experienced in a very personal way just how the pain and frustration of the "stigma" of a mental illness can impact someone in a way that forces silence. I decided to share that experience on social media, breaking my own silence. It is my hope that sharing this will help others step out from behind their own curtains. That we as a whole can embrace the very real fact that mental illness should not be hidden, but embraced and given proper care. Suicide should not be in the leading cause of death category for anyone. After spending six days hospitalized for an asthma exacerbation and treated with strong steroids I found myself home battling symptoms of “steroid toxicity.” It is not easy to tell anyone, "Hey, I'm feeling a bit crazier than normal..." but I knew things weren't right and I reached out to the on call medical personnel for assistance. When the voice on the other end of the phone noted, "I see here in your chart that you have a history of depression/anxiety," my heart sank. In short, my symptoms: insomnia, heart palpitations, chest pain, headache, nausea, and mood swings were attributed to my "mental illness" history and were dismissed. Two days later in the doctor’s office, lab work showed that I was a very sick woman who needed immediate medical interventions to stop the adverse effects that the steroids were having on my body. Turns out it wasn’t my “mental illness” after all. Even if it were, "just anxiety or just depression," as they say, that dismissal and judgement placed on me is what causes people seeking help to stay quiet and to stay sick.
So I am going to be one loud voice. My name is Jerra and I have a history of depression/anxiety and PTSD and that's okay!
***My name is Jerra Moreland. I am sharing life with my wonderful partner John and I am mother to five amazing humans! My two wonderful boys are 15 and 17 & my three bonus children twins (boy & girl) 21 and daughter 18. I have one of those amazing jobs where work does not feel like work. I spend my day in a multi categorical special education classroom working with students who have a variety of exceptional needs. I enjoy the arts... participating in local community theater, writing and creating various art projects using multiple mediums. The beach is my happy place. When I grow up I would like to publish a book or two. I would also like to become a life coach and a motivational speaker. Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. It is my hope that through my voice others will find peace, acceptance and unconditional love. Epilogue: Within 24 hours of writing this we received news that one of John's co-workers had completed suicide. It is my hope that no one would ever have to feel that the world, the people they love, would be better off without them there. You matter.