Oliver: When it comes to dealing with mental health issues, let’s talk about it

The recent death of country music superstar Naomi Judd, who fought clinical depression for years, was tragic. It also is a reminder why we need to talk about mental illness.

Judd didn’t hide her illness; she even wrote about it in her 2016 memoir. Her family didn’t hide her illness, announcing that they lost their mother “to the disease of mental illness.”

Despite her openness about her illness, it still claimed her life. How much harder it is for those who suffer in silence. Perhaps that’s because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, despite there being no good reason for it. Depression is for other people, or so the thinking goes.

Only, depression doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Depression doesn’t care if you are a country music superstar or an unknown working person just trying to make it through another day.

Judd succumbed to her mental illness the day before she and daughter Wynonna, who was the other half of their duo, The Judds, were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Naomi Judd’s actress daughter, Ashley, in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, spoke of her mother’s illness. She made a very insightful comment about the difference between her mother and her mother’s illness. “When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” she said. “It’s very real. It lies. It’s savage.”

Depression is what caused a beautiful, talented and beloved country music legend to believe that she was none of those things. Of course, that’s what depression does.

Some of my best friends have battled depression for years and are still in the fight. Some also deal with extreme anxiety issues. I remind them that mental illness is no different than breast cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.

These past few years of isolation and disruption have just added another layer of challenge to all of our lives. It’s no wonder that more and more of us are struggling to cope.

However, help is available. None of us has to go it alone.

Since this is Mental Health Awareness Month, why don’t we all take time to assess ourselves honestly. There is no shame in determining that maybe we need help.

A federal resource, MentalHealth.gov, offers these early warning signs of mental health problems. Experiencing one or more of these feelings or behaviors can signal a problem:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little;
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities;
  • Having low or no energy;
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters;
  • Having unexplained aches and pains;
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless;
  • Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual;
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried or scared;
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends;
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships;
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories that you can’t get out of your head;
  • Hearing voices or believing things that aren’t true;
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others; and
  • Inability to perform daily tasks, such as taking care of your children or getting to work or school

If you see yourself in any of these early warning signs, please reach out for help. If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. Learn more 800-273-8255.

Maybe you are struggling, but you don’t feel you’re at a “clinical” level. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone about it. When I’ve run into life patches where I felt overwhelmed, I found great help in talking to a counselor.

I’m not ashamed of that. You shouldn’t be either.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.