May is Mental Health Month and all Coloradans may have had their mental health taxed with the isolation, anxiety over jobs or finances or fear of catching a deadly virus during this time. I’m hoping that makes all of us more aware of brain disorders and the outside influences that impact those of us with a mental health diagnosis.

I have had symptoms of major depression since I was a teen but, even though I had a career providing mental health care, I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 50 years old.

What a difference antidepressants were for me and my life! Not everyone has a mental health disorder that responds well to medicine — I was lucky. But there are other tools one can learn to use — breathing exercises for anxiety and stress, keeping a regular schedule and getting enough sleep, eating healthy food and exercising (assisting our bodies and brains to decrease the effects of stress and anxiety), reaching out to help others any way we can (phone calls, letters, etc.), focusing on spiritual practices (prayer, meditation, readings) and learning how to reach out to others when we could use help.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helped me learn these tools through their education and support groups. NAMI is the largest grassroots peer advocacy, education and support for those with mental illness and their families in the country. NAMI High Country Colorado (Lake and Summit Counties) has continued their support groups for folks with mental illness and our families on line. Feel free to join any of our virtual programs by going to our local affiliate, NAMI High Country Colorado’s web site (www.namihighcountrycolorado.org). All of our programs and classes are peer led and free to anyone.

If you are at home and reading this, please feel free to contact us if you need to talk. NAMI Colorado has a help line available Monday through Friday during work hours (303-321-3104). You may also call NAMI High Country Colorado at 970-718-2828 and we will return your call as soon as possible. If you are afraid that you or a loved one might harm themselves, please call the Colorado Crisis Line (844-493-8255) or 911.

Know that you are not alone. Today mental illness is treatable, it is not a weakness or moral failure and anyone can develop a brain disorder any time. Please know that you have NAMI members just a phone call or a keystroke away.

Annie Livingston-Garrett

Founding board member, NAMI High Country Colorado

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