It is widely accepted that if you have a health problem, you would see a medical professional who specializes in that problem’s proper treatment. If you have high cholesterol or are at risk of a heart attack, you see a cardiologist. If you have digestive problems, you see a gastroenterologist. If you have acne or other skin problems, you see a dermatologist. But if you are faced with a mental health problem, is your first instinct to see a mental health professional?
In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, I wanted to share my story to hopefully send a message to those struggling that there is hope for a better tomorrow. I grew up in a picture perfect household. I had both parents living in the home, straight A’s, played select soccer, and had a lot of friends. I have no complaints of my childhood. Moving into my adult life, it still is picture perfect. I married my high school sweetheart; we have two beautiful children, two energetic dogs, a roof over our heads, and good jobs. In fact, most people would describe me as being a bubbly, warm, and happy person. But most people can’t see what is going on in my brain and the thoughts that I am having.
I’ve suffered with anxiety much of my life, with a constant fear of disappointing people. I’ve always chalked it up to being a “type A” personality and my need for perfection. I didn’t realize that it might be something more until I started feeling constant sad thoughts, having no motivation to do anything, and wanting to stay in bed all day. The first time I reached out for help, I was in college. I went to the Counseling Center on campus and had a few sessions with them and started to feel better, so I stopped. The second time I reached out for help was when my husband and I were struggling with infertility. I had reached such a low point I was having suicidal thoughts and decided something needed to change because I wanted to live. I saw a therapist for a couple of months but then it got to be too expensive and I stopped going. The most recent time I reached out for help I was at home watching my husband and son play video games on the couch and I started having thoughts that they would be much better off without me. The scary part was that nothing had prompted these thoughts. We had actually had a great Saturday spent together as a family. I reached out for help much quicker this time because I’ve experienced these thoughts before and didn’t want them to lead to much more powerful suicidal thoughts.
Each time I was struggling I would tell myself I have nothing to be so upset about. I hadn’t suffered enough to feel this way. Unfortunately, I feel this is how stigma is negatively affecting people who are struggling with a mental illness. It is hard to remember your brain is just another organ in the body. When I was having bad thoughts, my brain was ill. If my kidney or liver or lungs were ill I would have immediately gone to the doctor. But I struggled admitting that I needed help. Even working in the mental health promotion field and telling people every day that it is okay to ask for help, I struggled reaching out myself because everyone expected me to be okay and not need help. What is indisputable is that mental health conditions are in fact legitimate health conditions, just like physical illnesses. Additionally, half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24.
One thing I’ve learned through my work with The Kim Foundation and my experience with mental illness is it doesn’t necessarily go away for good. Mental illness is not like strep throat where you take antibiotics for a week and you are better. Maintaining your mental health is so important and I wish I would have learned this earlier and saved myself from having so many dark thoughts and days of struggle. I am now working with my primary care physician and a counselor to get a combination of medication and talk therapy to treat my depression and anxiety and keep myself mentally healthy, and I don’t plan on stopping this time just because I am feeling better. Remember, your mental health is JUST AS IMPORTANT as your physical health!
Kailey Kocourek, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Kailey Kocourek joined The Kim Foundation in July 2018 as the Project Coordinator. She coordinates the Metro Area LOSS Team and provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention education in the community. Prior to that, she worked for a local nonprofit organization developing programs to improve access to health care for the underserved. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNO in Public Health in 2015 and is currently working towards her Master’s in Public Health from UNMC, expecting to graduate in May 2019. She was drawn to the nonprofit world because of her passion for helping and educating others. She is an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, and the Nebraska State Health Improvement Plan’s Depression and Suicide Health Priority group.