May is Mental Health Awareness Month; a time to raise awareness and reduce the stigma so many face when living with mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2021), nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. If you are living with mental illness, please remember you are not alone. Matt Corbin, Career Specialist and member of Baker College’s DEI Council, shares his journey of living with Bipolar Disorder. Special thanks to Matt for being willing to share his story with us.
When I was 18 years old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I had just completed my freshman year at Michigan State University and decided to transfer home and attend Wayne State University. I had dealt with many obstacles while living on my own for the first time at MSU. East Lansing provided me the opportunity to live and make decisions for myself, and I struggled. The idea that I was an “adult” pushed me to think independently, and most of all, to form my own opinions about everything. What I have come to understand, over many years of reflection, is that my mental health disorder made my transition into independence harder than it is for most and it took much more strength than I ever could have expected.
Having the world, with all its inequities and unfairness and complexity, thrust upon us at the age of 18 is difficult enough. Managing expectations and finding a path into adulthood can be scary. The fact that my mental illness made me hyper-sensitive to every aspect around me made the transition nearly impossible.
I found myself feeling it necessary to explain to everyone around me what was right and what was wrong. I did this constantly and in a very erratic way because I felt that only I saw the injustices and I needed to explain them so others would get it. I got frustrated and sad when my loved ones didn’t understand my newly found vigor, excitement, and insistence that they understand the importance of all my new ideas and theories.
I pushed hard, and then I withdrew. My life was in constant turmoil because I couldn’t find a balance to explain myself and all that was important to me. I know this is not the case for everyone, but I had an amazing support system and they worked hard to help me find someone to talk to. Someone who would understand me and who would help me vocalize everything I felt. That didn’t mean that everyone agreed with me, saw my perspective, or that I stopped having strong opinions. But, it did allow me to convey those ideas easier and in a way others could understand. I also learned to not get as easily frustrated when others disagreed with me.
The balance that I talk about in the previous paragraph did not come overnight. Accepting my mental health condition and battling to get to somewhere I was content and happy was an extremely long journey. It was nearly six long years of struggling with different medications and self-medicating with things that I thought made me feel “normal.” The people in my support system were constantly afraid that they would find out something tragic had happened to me. Internally, I was in a constant argument with myself that the way I was thinking was the right way and everyone else had it wrong.
Eventually, though, I was able to understand the importance of my mental health and that it was my struggle. As I reached out to people and others reached out to me, I realized I could achieve happiness. I could live my life how I wanted, with my opinions, with my ideas, and not everyone had to see the world as I do. Now I understand that the world is made up of billions of people who don’t share the same experiences, who don’t share the same perspectives, and that is okay. Finding joy in my life and making sure I am happy and taking care of myself leads to progress.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my abbreviated story. My story, like yours, is filled with a lot more details, difficulties, dilemmas, and ups and downs, but I like to share it, even if it is in a quick blog post. My story is a true testament to the importance of mental health awareness and how living with a mental health disorder and finding happiness is possible. Don’t get me wrong, accepting help can be a struggle, but there is help, resources, and support systems just like the ones I had.
Please don’t believe you have to do anything alone, like I did for so long. Please tell yourself like I did and I have come to understand, “It is a lot more difficult and takes so much more strength to be vulnerable and ask for help.” Asking for someone to help you is a sign of strength. If you need help, with anything, don’t hesitate, you are strong.
The below resources have been taken from the National Institute of Mental Health. As an organization, the National Institute of Mental Health dedicated itself to “transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses.” You can visit their website for further resources and information: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
Get Immediate Help in a Crisis
Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Find a Health Care Provider or Treatment
Treatment for mental illnesses usually consists of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment can be given in person or through a phone or computer (telehealth). It can sometimes be difficult to know where to start when looking for mental health care, but there are many ways to find a provider who will meet your needs.
Primary Care Provider: Your primary care practitioner can be an important resource, providing initial mental health screenings and referrals to mental health specialists. If you have an appointment with your primary care provider, consider bringing up your mental health concerns and asking for help.
Federal Resources: Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying health care providers and help in finding low-cost health services. These include:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator on its website that can be searched by location.
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): HRSA works to improve access to health care. The HRSA website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): CMS has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for mental health programs and how to enroll.
- The National Library of Medicine (NLM) MedlinePlus: NLM’s website has directories and lists of organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner.
- Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help: This website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to help answer questions about insurance coverage for mental health care.
National Agencies and Advocacy and Professional Organizations: Advocacy and professional organizations can be a good source of information when looking for a mental health provider. They often have information on finding a mental health professional on their website, and some have practitioner locators on their websites. Examples include but are not limited to:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). “Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illness.” Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml