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Mental Illness Can Affect Anyone, Even a Peppy Nurse Like Me

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October 12, 2021

Mental Illness Can Affect Anyone, Even a Peppy Nurse Like Me

Written By: Lydia Kristin Lampert, RN, BSN
Medical Home Care Coordinator
Hunterdon Family Medicine at Riverfield

One very prominent memory from my nursing school years occurred when I was in my psychiatric clinical rotation.  One day, during our lecture, the professor turned off the lights, told us to close our eyes, put our heads on the lecture tables, and tune in to listen.

As I followed her commands and rested my head on the table, multiple noises surrounded me.  They sounded like radio stations playing over the top of one another, and occasionally you could almost make out a voice. Still, it was mostly noise, static and overall chaos infiltrating our brains.  She made us listen for 15 minutes. When the sensory experiment concluded, she proceeded to inform us that we just experienced what life was like for an unmedicated schizophrenic.

The professor’s sensory experiment was indeed an awakening for me. I suddenly felt so much compassion and sympathy for those that have to live with constant chaos playing in the background. I never wanted to listen to ten things playing at once ever again. That spring day in 2006, I developed empathy for people afflicted with something so debilitating that cannot be seen.

In 2015, I found an even deeper appreciation for that concept. You see, during that year, it was I who could not quell the constant voices in my mind, the voices of depression, and on January 12, 2015, those voices had convinced me that it seemed as good a day as any to die.

After dropping my sons at school, I veered onto my favorite gravel road, the one where I would go to hide and chain-smoke my cigarettes. I remember gazing out the rapidly fogging windshield and realizing I could just wander off into the woods and disappear. I found comfort in knowing that by the time someone found me, it would be too late. The voices reminded me that my disappearance would spare my family the horror of discovering my lifeless body, reassuring me their plan would work. I was obsessed with an exit, an escape, an end to the torturous pain in my chest that felt as if someone was ripping it apart with their bare hands.

I was out of work and collecting temporary disability since I could not get “unstuck” from the traumas currently flooding my body. The previous fall, every traumatic situation I had compartmentalized throughout my life had been unlocked and released, the awful result of a secondary trauma my family had experienced. Mentally, I had become paralyzed and unable to process anything. Physically I was present, but my mind had checked out.

My life had come to an abrupt stop, and I had no idea how to find my old self anymore.

In 2015, I was in a constant state of fight or flight. I couldn’t eat or sleep. My exit from this earth appeared to be an easier option than fighting back against my past traumas. And on that January morning, I realized my obsessive daydreams of suicide would become a reality if I didn’t seek help immediately. I drove home and called my mom to sit with me as I searched for a psychiatric hospital where I could voluntarily admit myself for I had resisted suggestions to go long enough.

I ended up being admitted to a psychiatric hospital and getting the help I needed desperately.  Undergoing inpatient treatment was not an easy journey for me or my family. But it was necessary, and I am thankful every day of my life that I decided to go.

Anyone who would ever meet me today would have a hard time believing this version of Lydia ever existed, but she did. I used to try to keep “that” Lydia a secret and lived in fear of anyone ever finding out about her. Through inpatient treatment, therapy, and lots of hard work, I no longer live a life in fear and now strive to shed light on the fact that mental illness can strike anyone.

Today, I am proud to share my story because I know by revealing my own struggles and ability to overcome them, I may be able to help others find the courage to seek help and heal as well.

I hope that my story will also help raise awareness about mental health issues.

In addition to October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is also Mental Illness Awareness Month, and this week is Mental Illness Week.

Although depression can make one feel as if they are alone, there are many, many more of us in this country than you might expect.  People are suffering in silence, facing the world with fake smiles and I’m doing great, just as I had done back then.

I want my message to reach those people, but I also want to enlighten those who doubt how real and problematic the mental health crisis is within our country. I want to speak to those who believe it cannot happen to them or someone they love. I can assure you, no one is guaranteed immunity.

Did you know that in 2020, 48,344 Americans died by suicide? And of those, 90% had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death?

The need to raise mental health awareness and end the stigma that permeates our society can be further substantiated by these thought-provoking facts. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20.6% of US adults experienced mental illness in 2019:

  • 48 million adults navigate life with an Anxiety Disorder
  • 19.4 million adults suffered a Major Depressive Episode, and Major Depression is the leading cause of disability in the US
  • 9 million citizens in our country live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 7 million manage life with bipolar disorder
  • 2.2 million adults’ lives are affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • 1.5 million have been diagnosed with schizophrenia

Out of everyone listed above, only 65.5% of them received treatment for their serious mental illnesses!

Even more troubling is that the delay between one’s onset of symptoms and treatment is 11 years. 11 years!!! So people are struggling for over a decade before seeking help?

But the most disturbing is that 55% of the counties in the United States of America do not have even one practicing psychiatrist.

We residents of New Jersey should consider ourselves fortunate, for as of 2018, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, our State has 1323 practicing general psychiatrists.

Yet, those suffering from mental illness here continue to face barriers to treatment whether it be due to insurance issues, wait times for appointments, or cost. We, in healthcare and in society, need to try to help them. We need to show compassion, understanding, and kindness. But most importantly, we need to be aware and informed to foster a positive change.

In the meantime, if you need to talk to someone or need help, but are not sure where to turn, speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner.  I had an amazing nurse practitioner that I saw regularly during that time and continue to see to this day. She supported me, encouraged me, and gently pushed me until I finally realized I needed more intensive help. She managed my symptoms and listened quietly while I would sit in her exam room and cry.  That trusting relationship is not to be underrated and I will forever treasure it.

Also, if you receive medical care from a Hunterdon Healthcare practice, you can also seek the assistance of the Care Coordinator as they are able to provide you with the proper resources.

Finally, if you are reading this and suffering alone, this is for you. I’ve been in your shoes and I hope you will listen when I tell you:

“I feel your pain. I understand what you are going through. I know you may not see it now, BUT you are in there and deserve a chance. Please don’t give up. Fight because you are worth it. Don’t let the illness win. Look at you! You are still here. You are stronger than you know, and you deserve to find happiness. Remember, you are not alone.”

And to everyone else reading, if you know someone suffering, encourage them to seek help.

Most importantly, if you feel someone is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, call 911 immediately. Your actions and compassion could save someone’s life.

Resources:

Hunterdon Behavioral Health: 908-788-6401

Hunterdon County Crisis Line: 908-788-6400

Warren County Crisis Line: 908-454-5141

World Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

 

References:

https://www.behavioralhealthworkforce.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Y3-FA2-P2-Psych-Sub_Full-Report-FINAL2.19.2019.pdf

https://chapterland.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/11/US_FactsFigures_Flyer.pdf

https://www.nami.org/mhstats

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

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