More common than we think
Nearly 44 million adults experience an episode of mental illness in any given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of these, the experience of 10 million adults in the United States with mental illness was so serious that it substantially interfered with a major life activity.
A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than did the general population according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015.
Why don’t we get the help we need?
Only 41 percent of adults who needed them received mental health services in the past year. What prevents us from getting the assistance that we so desperately need?
Addressing the stigma
Although a common problem among us, mental illness in America, in all its forms, is still marked by stigma and shame. This spurious perception of a shameless disorder has been partly responsible for individuals not getting the help they need.
“It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.
“Stigma stems from not understanding what mental health conditions are all about, and not realizing that we all have at least some of these characteristics, “ said Kalb. “Part of the reason to learn more about these conditions is not to label people, but to better understand where people are coming from — and how, in a business setting, some of these attributes can be positive.”
While it’s very tempting to stay afraid of the stigma of a diagnosis, understand that you’re not alone, and that we all share similar problems from time to time.
Access to healthcare
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Americans hoped access to personal healthcare insurance would be both easier to obtain and less costly. The U.S. Small Business Administration reported in 2014 that over 75 percent of businesses are known as “non-employer” firms. These firms create a single job — typically the business owner — and have no one else on the payroll.
Because of the changes in insurance laws, many of these individuals were faced with having to leave health care options that they many have had under prior insurers and face higher rates on the new healthcare exchanges for insurance plans that were less comprehensive.
Premiums for some insured have risen nearly 10 percent in the past two years, and depending upon the state in which they live and income targets, many individuals are bracing for steep increases in insurance prices this year, with estimates ranging from 16 percent to 65 percent increases.
The effect on loved ones
As the publisher of the Washington Post, Newsweek, and owner of multiple television and radio stations, Phil Graham was a man with money and power. Yet, despite his wealth and privilege, he was not immune to mental illness. His journey with severe mental illness began in 1957 and continued for years thereafter.
Katherine Graham never forgot her husband’s tears, even decades later. “He was in real tears and desperation,” she told The Baltimore Sun, “he was…powerless, immobilized.”
In an era in which the stigma was profound and the treatment options severely limited, there was little help that could be found, and Phil’s rapid descent into illness included hospitalization and invasive electroshock therapy, all to no avail. Throughout it all, Katherine carried out the doctor’s orders, trying to talk Phil out of manic depressive episodes, speaking for hours on end to try to bolster his spirits.
We know that we ask our loved ones to carry large burdens for us an entrepreneurs, and try to ease their load. Yet, by not looking for help in an attempt to not be a bother to them, we don’t help them.
A study by Rogers, Stafford, and Garland at Baylor University found that for family members of those with mental illness, there were high levels of both subjective and objective burdens reported, with many family members struggling to process through their own feelings about the mental illness and their loved one.
We do not ease the path for our loved ones by refusing to seek and get the help we need, but instead damn them with a heavier burden, despite our well-meaning intentions.
In her powerful work, The Dangers of Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan, discusses the all-too-familiar concept of people not wanting to allow themselves to think about things that end in conflict or that rock the boat, personally or professionally.
“We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial,” writes Heffernan. “We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.”
For many of us, it’s not that we don’t want to admit that we need help, but rather that we simply cannot allow ourselves to see it — even in the best of times! If you’re struggling to see life clearly through the lens of a mental illness, it is even more difficult.
Being open with one’s self about things that are real and things that are not, and acknowledging that things might not be okay, is the first step to finding assistance.
Where to go for help
You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.
While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.
There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website and engaging in an online chat.
For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741. Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.
Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.
You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.