Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine yourself as a nine year old girl. It’s Christmas Eve, and the wind is whipping around your run-down trailer, sapping the heat right out of it. Your younger sisters are asleep in the bedroom, tucked under a pile of blankets to keep them warm. You and your dad are sitting and watching something on a flickering old television. You hear a noise, look over, and see your dad holding a gun against his own head, a look of terror and despair in his eyes. You, a nine year old girl, talk your father down from his suicidal display.
Schizophrenia, depression, and divorce are all a part of the vicious mix that have caused the young father in our story to reach the end of his rope. The sense of hopelessness, the anger, the inner darkness are all clamoring at him. That young girl could be ANY young girl. It could be you. It could be your daughter. This is a true story, and it happened in my family.
My brother has suffered with schizophrenia for almost 35 years. My mom has had to care for him for 30 of those years. For the past 3 years, I have been the person who listens when he calls to complain, the person who pays his bills, settles his debts, makes sure he has food and clean clothes. I make sure that he gets his medicine for his mental illness and the medical care he needs. It’s not easy, and it takes a toll on anyone.
Being in charge of my brother is a huge responsibility, and it comes with a tremendous cost, paid in emotional upset and struggles of mental strength. Mental illness severely affects everyone around the victim, including not only the immediate family, but the extended family, and friends as well. There were times when I was ready to seek help for myself. I don’t know how my mom did it for so long. My mom is another one we should be honoring today as an American Mother of the year.
Stress, clinical depression, and extreme anxiety are affecting more Americans every day. As a teacher in public schools for the past 30 years, I have watched the mental and social stability of our student population decline. I have seen families broken because of violence and infidelity, but even more, because of the effects of mental illness and the stigma associated with it.
How do we fix these problems? It would be easy to say that we just need families to stay together, but that isn’t always a practical thing, or a possible thing. We need to help students navigate the muddy waters of homes that are often lacking in the things we considered to be basic needs when we ourselves were young.
Counseling is one of the keys, in my opinion.. We need to educate our students and ourselves. We need to create strategies to cope with emotions, stressors and feelings. My job is to create an environment where children can grow and learn, but that’s made more difficult when the child is dealing with violence and anger at home. No matter how much love I give to a student, I cannot make up for an absent parent, lack of basic food and shelter, or undiagnosed mental illness.
At my school, our school counselor is so busy meeting with individual students that our school district had to contract out for a counselor that would come to the school and work with the overflow of children. These problems begin in the elementary years, and cannot be ignored, or we simply perpetuate the cycle of abuse and dysfunction. I cannot afford to say that this isn’t my job, because this is my community, and these are the children of my friends and neighbors, the children who play with my own children. If I don’t help them, if our community does not help them, then who will?
When teachers ask for more resources, this is why. We are trying to be not only educators, but counselors, good listeners, and occasionally even therapists. It’s not always fair, but it’s important. It’s why many of us got into teaching to begin with. It’s in our nature to help, and we desperately need access to the skills and physical aids that will help us to help them.
Our role as mothers is to nurture. We want to provide care, love, and support. We yearn to educate, encourage, protect and to teach. There is a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. How can we NOT care about our family, and our loved ones?
Let me share a statistic with you: Eighteen percent of the total adult population in the United States suffers from some mental illness. These illnesses include conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. Almost one fifth of the adults. That means at your average barbecue, at least three people are struggling with the effects of mental illness. There are not nearly enough mental health care workers to go around, either.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) tell us that there is, “…a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances.” Those who struggle with mental illness are often the same people who are victim to alcoholism, cocaine use, and other life threatening addictions.
We need more services for the mentally ill, more housing, and more support. 43 million people suffer from mental illness in our country, but only 40% of these people receive help.
There are long waiting lists for low income people to get into rehabilitation, and even longer lists for those who cannot care for themselves but need more regular help. Last week, 50 adults and 3 children were waiting in NH Emergency Departments for inpatient psychiatric beds. Many will wait days, or even weeks, for appropriate treatments.
As the representative for American Mothers of the Year from the live free or die state of New Hampshire, I wholeheartedly believe that we should support obtaining more resources for people suffering from mental illness.
My Mother always says, “God won’t give you things that you can’t handle.” There were times when handling my brother’s mental illness, I felt that I too was about to break. As Kelly Clarkson sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I have learned to be strong! All of the mothers here today have been through a lot! All of you here have become stronger and powered through difficult situations. I believe with faith in God, you can conquer anything.
Whether we are serving within our own family, in our small community, in our state, in our nation or in the world, we are contributing. Everyone of us, in our own way, with our own resources, with our own time, we are caring for others and serving others. We are trying to make our world a better place.
Bridget Wold-Johnson is the 2018 New Hampshire Mother of the Year. You can read more about Bridget HERE.