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Let’s Talk about Mental Illness; as Easily as we Talk About Our Backache

I tried to count the number of family members, friends and friends of friends who’ve been severely depressed and/or suicidal, or actually attempted suicide for this article, and I lost count. As a health professional and the sister of a mental health professional, I’ve spent two decades in a career (and a lifetime studying) meant to help people feel better. So why does it seem like nobody feels better?

What I know about this topic, like many other topics we grew up being taught not to talk about, is that talking about it is the awareness that’ll begin to create the change. Sharing the stories we’re afraid to share not only helps dissolve the shame that grows around them like mold, it helps build the community you need to begin to heal.

So, let’s talk about this.

“In 2016, an estimated 10.3 million U.S. adults aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment. This number represented 4.3% of all U.S. adults.”

This comes from an article you can read by NIH here. In fact if you Google this, like I did, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the amount of depressing statistics.

In my lifetime and career I’ve learned about everything from psychotherapy (so many different kinds it makes my head spin) to shock therapy, to group therapy, to somato-emotional therapy to some therapies that sound a bit more woo, so I’ll refrain here in case you’re a bit more left-brained and have trouble realizing that just because something sounds weird and different, it may still actually work.

Bottom line, there’s a lot of help out there. But why isn’t it helping? My take is that we’re still afraid to talk about it, reach out, and get any help because of what we think people will think about us if we do. And my other take is that we’re not helping from a mind/body/soul integrated approach.

The therapists that deal with the mind don’t treat the body. The therapists who treat the body can’t dialogue appropriately to deal with the mind. When are we going to realize that the disease of depression lives in a place inside us that’s both? And when are these people going to get together and collaborate instead of looking at each other as competition, or trying to defend their modality against the other?

And if you’re interested in learning about people who know this and have written about it, you might pick up Healing Ancient Wounds, by John F. Barnes, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. and Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine. Both books talk about an integrated approach to trauma healing. There are many others. The info is out there. Now it’s time to talk about it, create a better comfort zone around sharing our stories, and challenge ourselves to help our friends and family in different ways.

I remember getting three calls in my lifetime (about family members and a friend) telling me about a suicide attempt. This past year alone there were two suicides in my kid’s high school.

I stopped watching the news a while ago. I’m sure I would have learned about so many more.

After moving through a divorce a year and a half ago I experienced debilitating anxiety and depression for the first time. I’d been “blue” before, but this was different. Way different. The circumstances of my life and the actions I was taking were creating an amount of anxiety that created physical symptoms, as well as a suffocating habit of rumination that I couldn’t control some days. I actually thought to myself one day, this is what they mean when they talk about mental illness. The thing was, I’d never used that label. I was a little afraid of it. What did that mean to call myself that? What would people think? Would it go away? Would I need medication?

My mind started in on itself about the feelings which was worse than just the feelings. The kind of anxiety I experienced was just one kind; episodic. People suffer from worse and many different kinds. And that’s why we better start talking about it so that we can understand it, demystify it, and make it a bit more commonplace; help those suffering talk about it like a sprained ankle.

We don’t hesitate to go to the doctor when our body is off, injured or ill. But when it’s our mind, our thinking or the way we’re coping, we hesitate. We feel ashamed. We hide. We begin to feel very, very alone. This isn’t necessary. But we live in a society that created a stigma around it, so we’ve learned to feel these ways.

It’s time to change that.

So in honor of Mental Health Awareness month, I’ve started this conversation and I’ll continue to talk about it in my groups, workshops and books. When we start talking about it, the conversation gets more interesting, people begin to feel brave and share their stories, and we start to heal. There’s healing for the teller of the story and there’s healing for the listener/reader. Building a community around you of people who aren’t afraid to share is important. I intend to continue to lead that revolution of brave healers.

Join me?

Help me shed some light on this topic and share a story in the comments about your experiences.

Laura Di Franco, MPT is the owner of Brave Healer Productions. She’s a published poet and author, inspirational speaker, holistic physical therapist and third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do with over two decades of experience in healing. Praised as “our favorite class” by The Writer’s Center, her brave, intuitive writing and healing workshops are the reason she was born. She helps healers get their badass, authentic voice published in order to heal the world with their words. Her new book, Brave Healing; a Guide for Your Journey is due out June 1st! Find Laura at and her Brave Healer Facebook Page