The World Health Organization (WHO) observes World Mental Health Day on October 10th with the purpose of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.
Peace Promise regularly encounters women with a mental health concern. We recognize that our area of expertise is in meeting and building relationships with women who experience commercial sexual exploitation and accompanying them through their journeys to well-being, which may include a mental health crisis. Our job is to offer support and connect her with local mental health care professionals. The purpose of this blog post is to further the conversation about mental health, help reduce the stigma associated with seeking care and emphasize the importance of a caring community on the road to wholeness.
Three decades ago, during the crisp autumn days of late October when sunlight illumines the outline of partially bare treelines and the wind rustles the remains of hollowed-out corn stalks, I slowly began my descent into confusion and disorientation. It started with thoughts that seemed to swirl and never settle. Pages of words blurred. Comprehension was nearly impossible. Sleep was fitful. When I did succumb to slumber, dreams were disjointed and fear-laden. Awake. I sat in shadowy stillness watching the night excruciatingly hover toward dawn.
Anxiety plagued each moment. Heart palpitations. Stilted breathing. Eating became a laborious chore. Nourishment that managed to find my stomach, did not linger. Nervousness catapulted it toward the surface, often in public, adding to the humiliation of this consuming condition. Voices started commingling inside my mind. At first, just one – a voice whispering impending demise. Proliferating until I was surrounded – a cacophony of hateful speech, relentless directives. For weeks I waged war seemingly against myself. Exhausted, I surrendered. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the psychological pummeling to cease. I closed my eyes and prayed for peace.
Defying medical prognosis, this story ended well. I received extended, in-patient medical care, closely monitored medications and ongoing therapeutic support. Supported by fiercely compassionate family members, friends, and a church community, I slowly recovered. Yet, I often wonder…what happens if there isn’t someone to hear or see a young woman’s descent? What happens if the woman has no one to call…no one to text…no one to tell, “I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I’m not okay.”
Many of the women who are friends of Peace Promise confide they have no one to call if they need help with childcare, transportation to the grocery store, or are in need of medical attention. It can be especially difficult to reach out for help during a mental health crisis. While there is a greater awareness about the warning signs of depression, access to toll-free numbers for crisis support, and a movement toward destigmatizing mental illness within the mainstream population, the same support is often not accessed by women who reside in society’s margins. Frequently, there are insufficient resources to seek mental health care. Women who experience commercial sexual exploitation and do seek medical attention are faced with the possibility of being shamed for their current health condition. After a positive interaction with a medical professional, a young woman recently exclaimed, “He treated me like a person!” While we know there are many highly-skilled, empathetic, and generous health care providers in our region, sadly, this kind of health care was not part of this woman’s previous experience, but it can be a part of her future.
Peace Promise volunteers are there for women in a wide range of mental health circumstances. Sometimes it’s discussing current mental health care plans that are already in place. How are you feeling on your medications? Are you able to take your medications regularly? Is there anything preventing you from taking them? Would you like a ride to your next counseling appointment? Sometimes it’s a conversation about managing regular emotions and identifying activities or healthy coping skills. Are you getting adequate sleep? Let’s write a weekly grocery list together and include healthy foods. Have you tried going for a walk today or a creative activity? Let’s talk about knowing when it’s time to ask for help. Sometimes a mental health crisis occurs and Peace Promise volunteers are called to accompany a woman to the emergency room for assessment or visit her while she receives in-patient care.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a mental health crisis and know what it feels like. Maybe you have a friend, co-worker, or family member who lives with a mental health diagnosis. Perhaps there was something in this article that resonated with you and you would like to help a local woman maintain her journey to wholeness. If so, we invite you to consider making a one-time gift or becoming a Peace Promise monthly donor:
$25 a month will help cover transportation costs to counseling appointments
$50 a month will provide safe childcare for a mom while she attends recovery groups
$100 a month will contribute to the purchase of healthy groceries and medications
If you are a local healthcare provider, we invite you to consider becoming a Giving Tuesday Peace Promise Partner to show your support of local women who are building a better future and highlight the work you are doing in our community. For more information, contact us here.
Written by a dedicated Peace Promise Volunteer