While many people may not put much thought into the idea of Mental Health Awareness month, for Tinesha Longley, the awareness month represents hope – hope that one day, more people will become more knowledgeable on how to relate to their mental existence as people. Hope that one day, people will no longer have to live alone with their thoughts in fear of being ostracized. And hope that one day, people can all have healthy minds that produce healthy lives.
“Mental health is still your health,” said Longley, 34, who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression as well as anxiety disorder – Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
“We are complex beings made up of spirit, soul and body, and can only function holistically when all three components of who we are as beings are working together. So, while we go to the gym and go to church to take care of our physical and spiritual health, there is a requirement to take care of our mental health as well, if we are ever to live as a whole being. The main thing I have learned about mental health and its importance is that it plays the main role in us becoming who we are. So, neglecting our mental health is neglecting who we are at our core – and that is neglecting who we were meant to be.”
MDD is something Longley does not have control of. She can be normal, and then a misfire can happen, and she can slip into a state of depression.
An introvert all her life, what she did not realize was her introversion hid layers of internalized pain and covered up traumatic experiences in her childhood that went unacknowledged or overlooked by the people around her.
Growing up in a toxic and abusive home, she said she struggled with depression and anxiety all her life, but didn’t realize it as mental illness. She found release from her pain with cutting, which she revealed she started at age 11, shortly after she was raped by her brother’s friend.
The cutting was off and on as she matured into adulthood and the daily pressures that came with it. Her first miscarriage and the emotional pain that ensued, commenced her cutting on a regular basis. A nervous breakdown episode, while attempting to commit suicide in 2010, led to an evaluation by a psychiatrist and her diagnosis. She was placed on medications.
Today, she is off medications, and June 13, will mark her one-year meds-free anniversary.
Longley made the decision to stop taking her medication during the pandemic due to accompanying financial challenges and a broken marriage.
“I did not have the funds to continue getting my meds, even with insurance, because they are extremely expensive.”
Without insurance, she said, her medications average $300 per month; with insurance, she paid approximately $60 per month.
In January 2019, Longley had a major relapse with depression and anxiety, and was hospitalized for two weeks in the psych ward of a Washington, DC, hospital. She was again placed on medication. The episode was triggered by her second miscarriage.
While she credits the medication that she was prescribed the second time with saving her life, making the decision to stop taking her meds, without her doctor’s consent, terrified her – but she did it because she said she had no choice.
“I was terrified of the unknown. Would I have a relapse? Would I be able to deal with the withdrawals? Would I survive?
“So, one day I said to God, ‘Daddy, I did all I could to this point, and I will continue to fight with what I do have control over, and I give you permission to take control of the rest’. At this point, I just became more intentional with the natural routines I had developed that worked for the anxiety and depression episodes like walking, space protection, connecting with others, talking, and asking for help.”
When Longley had her psych follow-up a month after taking herself off her medications, she said her psychiatrist saw that she was doing well and consented for Longley to continue what she was doing, with the advice for Longley to call if she ever felt the need for medications.
Approximately one month out of her meds-free anniversary, Longley said she can look back and recall feeling afraid, every day for months.
“The anxiety intensified, and for a while I waited for the other shoe to fall – but it didn’t. Looking at other people struggling through the pandemic … even losing their lives. Seeing stories of other women not recovering after a failed marriage, and even taking their lives, made me feel so afraid, I started to think I needed to go back on the meds.”
Longley’s “lightbulb” moment came one day as she watched a video of a woman whose marriage failed after different challenges, but that she ended up a successful entrepreneur with a beautiful family. That story resonated with her.
“We all have a story, and a story to tell by the way we live – and from that day to now, afraid or not, I choose to live the story I want to tell.”
And her story, she said, includes the past year of ups and downs, challenges and successes, that came with being off her meds. The most important aspect to her story, she said, has been life.
“It has been me living. Living through every moment, and ensuring I learn what is needed from every moment, so that I continue to grow beyond every moment; because life is only produced from growth. So, with every moment, I choose to grow, so that I can continue to live.”
Mental health is an important part of a person’s overall health and well-being. It includes emotional, psychological and social well-being and affects how a person thinks, feels and acts. It also helps determine how people handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
A person’s mental health can change over time, depending on many factors, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health could be impacted.
Depression, anxiety and psychosis are some of the most common mental health disorders that people may experience in their lives due to family genetics, stress and life choices.
Mental health is not just about the person that is schizophrenic or bipolar. One thing people should know is that they are not alone and that there is help available for those people that are struggling.
A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the CDC. It also states that mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health.
The CDC advises that there is not one single cause for mental illness, but that a number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as early adverse life experiences such as trauma or a history of abuse (child abuse, sexual assault, witness to violence); experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes; biological factors, such as genes or chemical imbalances in the brain; use of alcohol or recreational drugs; having few friends; and having feeling of loneliness or isolation.
Longley’s advice to people is “recovery is great – avoidance is better”.
“Yes, society has placed a stigma on mental health that causes a lot of people to struggle in silence and fight to recover after major episodes, but I assure you that can be avoided with three words – I need help – and it is OK.”
Mental Health Awareness month is observed in May as a time to raise awareness of people living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma many people experience.
Longley has also authored “Silent Cries” – a book focused on breaking the stigma and silence attached to mental health in The Bahamas. Through her book, Longley hopes to increase public knowledge and awareness of mental illness and encourage people to seek help. It is her hope that people read her book and take away the knowledge and understanding that there is life with and after a mental illness diagnosis.