Speaker’s Forum

MIND COLORS – From Dark to Bright


By Deena Baxter

If you survived puberty and entered adulthood mostly intact, you’re fortunate: One in four people emerges like Picasso’s Tete d’une Femme Lisant, intimately familiar with the dark spaces of their mind but often lacking the ability or resources to find the light.

How can we help? We can start by working together to keep our community safer and welcoming for those living with mental illness and brain disorders as well as those who aren’t.

The Cost of Denial: For too long, society has ostracized and discriminated against those living with mental illness and done so in measurable ways. Florida consistently ranks near the bottom for mental health funding. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute ranked Florida 51st out of 52 for total state mental health spending per capita, behind 49 states and Washington, D.C. and ahead of Puerto Rico. Only recently did that change, due to the public’s demand for action on the opioid overdose epidemic and student advocacy on mass gun violence in Florida and beyond. We can use our voices and our votes to advocate for more funding for effective mental health research, programs and services.

Awareness & Support: Mental illness does not discriminate: It affects up to 25% of the population, regardless of color, creed, religion, age, fortune or fame. In spite of media hype, people suffering from mental illness or brain disorders are far more likely to be bullied and harmed than to harm others.

There are several local and national organizations that can help those who are experiencing mental health challenges, plus support and awareness training for caregivers and the community. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, offers an array of helpful programs and services, including Mental Health First Aid, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for first responders, recovery focused support groups, support groups for family/caregivers and friends, H.U.G.S. early intervention for children ages three months to 18 years old, and the Sarah Ann Drop-In Center where adults with serious mental illness find a welcoming, safe, and supportive place to engage, socialize, and build life skills. In 2017, NAMI-CC provided innovative education, support and advocacy services at no cost to over 16,000 individuals.

Meaningful Connections: As I’ve traveled across the country as a mental health advocate, many people have shared their inspiring stories. These courageous teens, adults and seniors are embracing life, successfully achieving goals, and refuse to be defined solely by their mental health challenges. They have taught me invaluable lessons. The greatest gift we can give is to treat people with dignity and listen and validate where they are, or have been, in their life: The act of listening to understand instead of listening to respond.

By “listening deeply” I’ve learned that some people lack the vocabulary to articulate their pain, their grief, their frustrations with life, and what they need. The most compassionate thing we can do is to listen and not jump in, assuming someone wants something cleaned up, made smaller or swept away. Sometimes, people just want to share the truth of their own experience.

Grief author Megan Devine calls this, “A deep act of love and respect.” After listening, it can sometimes be appropriate to ask, “What do you need or want? Can I do anything to help you?” rather than say, “This is what you need to do.”

Many strong and resilient people have made peace with, and befriended, their dark side. Some have done this successfully with therapy, psychiatric medical procedures, psychotropic medications, a healthy lifestyle, and/or meditation. They no longer fear the dark. Perhaps we would all be healthier if we celebrated both the light and the dark. The Rev. Laura Randall encourages us to, “Trust that there is value in absence as well as abundance… We can learn from the darkness as well as the light. In fact, we need both.”

Take Aways: The right words at the right time can make a big difference. “Stay a little.” This is what Shakespeare’s King Lear implores his beloved daughter Cordelia as he drifts into madness. Sometimes, just making that connection can provide a lifeline and save a distressed soul. If you or anyone you know is suffering in silence, please reach out to NAMI-CC now (http://www.namicollier.org/). We can help you get out of the darkness and find the light.

Toby Mac said it well: “Not all storms come to disrupt your life. Some come to clear your path.”  Stay a little. Stay a lot. Life is worth living. Someone needs you tomorrow. We want you to be here for them.

Note: A version of this article was published in the July 2018 issue of èBella magazine titled, Learning From the Darkness and the Light. We thank them.

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