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A mental health epidemic is the crisis underlying the COVID-19 epidemic. About one-third of Americans are experiencing depression and anxiety and deaths by suicide are rising.

The bad news is the dual epidemics are not expected to go away in the near future. We are all wrestling with depression or mental illness in some form or fashion. If not ourselves, we are seeing it in the lives of our children.

But we can change the narrative. People who wrestle with their mental health need to be destigmatized. They are not weak. They are mental health warriors.

Through the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class, I learned that living through my psychotic break, I had lived through a traumatic event. Immediately after my psychotic break, I did not want to believe that I had a mental illness. I kept asking my psychiatrist to reduce my dosage, but then I couldn’t sleep. Getting a mental illness diagnosis feels like a death sentence. In a way it is. Your old self has died. My psychologist explained to me that having a psychotic break is like having a psychological house with a cracked foundation. Not only that, there’s a pit underneath your house. So, when the foundation breaks, your entire psychological house falls down into the pit and breaks into a thousand pieces.

I threw out everything I believed and started over from scratch. I had to walk through each of the stages of the grief process — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — until I accepted the new me with a mental health diagnosis.

The reality with COVID is that we all are living through a traumatic event. The first step in the process is to walk through the grief process. COVID has changed our lives forever. From this day forward we all need to be conscious of our mental health.

Managing my mental illness means managing all the areas of my life: my sleep, medication, diet, exercise, actions, thoughts, etc. When thinking about managing all these areas, a Rubik’s cube comes to mind. Like matching up the reds, yellows, blues, etc., I must make sure my diet, exercise, medications, sleep cycle are all lined up. Managing a mental illness takes a lot of trial and error in every aspect of my life. How do I manage it? Through my daily regimen.

If you are wrestling with loneliness, depression, or suicidal thoughts due to your life circumstances or COVID, please know that you are not alone. Reach out for help. Together we can do this. I am living proof that there is life after a mental illness diagnosis.

Everyone feels like they are fighting for their lives. We have all become mental health warriors!

Danei Edelen is president for the NAMI Brown County Ohio affiliate. For information on NAMI Brown County Ohio, call 937-378-3504 ext. 102, or email bcnami@bcmhas.org.