Did you know an estimated 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life? And that half of those people will develop mental health conditions before the age of 14?
Did you know that worldwide more than 300 million people of all ages live with depression?
October 10 is World Mental Health Day – a global day of awareness, education, and advocacy against social stigma. On days like today, it doesn’t take more than a quick glance at news headlines or social media feeds to see the statistics of mental illness. Statistics are helpful. Statistics are quantitative. But statistics don’t tell full stories. There are living, breathing, struggling, surviving people behind the statistics and each one of them has a story unique to them. The real story is not in the numbers, it’s in the people.
My son, who will turn 14 tomorrow, is one of those people. He was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of 9 and depression at the age of 10. He has been in weekly therapy and on an ever changing array of medications for more than 1/3 of his life. His diagnosis may influence some of who he is and what he does, but it does not tell his entire story.
He’s a teenager, who has lived with mental illness for much of this life, but he is so much more than his diagnosis. He is a seeker of knowledge who constantly amazes us with the depth of his questions and the breadth of his knowledge. He’s observant, witty, caring, empathetic and deeply sensitive. He is slow to trust new people and situations, but as loyal and caring as can be once he lets somebody into his heart. He is a lover of musical theater, super hero movies, Dungeons & Dragons and novels with deep themes. He codes things on the computer that are beyond my comprehension, is learning Japanese, and doesn’t seem to know it’s possible to sing or play the piano anyway other than loud. He would live on bread, chicken fingers and watermelon if we let him. He never fails to ask me how I slept or how my day was, and he’s genuinely happy when I can tell him my sleep or my day was good. He’s forgetful, and impatient, and never ties his shoes. He has a laugh that fills me with joy, especially because when he laughs it means he’s having a good mental health day.
On the eve of turning 14, he still has so much possibility before him. We know it’s likely he will have a lifelong struggle with his mental health. But we also know his diagnosis is not now, and never will be, his entire story. He is more than his diagnosis and more than a statistic. He is one of the 300 million people worldwide diagnosed with depression and he is a living, breathing, struggling, surviving person behind those statistics. His is the face I always see first in my mind when I read the statistics.
Read the statistics. Be informed. Help shatter stigma. But always see the faces behind the statistics.