By Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital
New Lenox, IL — The recent suicide of performer Naomi Judd at age 76 after battling depression for years shows mental health issues do not discriminate when it comes to age, income or gender, experts say.
And during Mental Health Awareness Month in May, they want to make sure you know it’s OK to reach out for help for yourself or a loved one.
“You can look at Naomi Judd, and think, ‘Why would she be depressed? Why would she do that? She looks like she has everything,’” said April Balzhiser, MA, LCPC, ICDVP, Program Director at Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital on the campus of Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.
“But mental illness has no boundaries.”
Teena Mackey agrees.
“People of all ages, genders, ethnicities and socio-economic groups are vulnerable to mental health issues,” said Mackey, President & Recovery Support Specialist for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), serving residents of Will and Grundy counties.
“Mental health challenges are not an inevitable part of aging, but there are several risk factors that we face as we get older,” she said.
Risk factors include:
- A feeling that we are no longer relevant.
- Reduced opportunities for participation in meaningful activities.
- Relationships that are at risk due to loss and people who are “too busy.”
- Challenges to physical health and the onset of disease.
The COVID Effect
Balzhiser said COVID and its restrictions on personal interaction exacerbated mental health issues already there for people and fostered new feelings for those who never had any issues before.
“COVID is very hard on young people, especially teens,” she said. “We think teens should handle using remote learning well because they always are in front of a screen. But we forget the social interaction that was lost. And we are feeling the after-effects of that now.
“Staying inside, staying apart from people is exactly the opposite of what we tell people with depression and anxiety to do to help them deal with it. Our mental health suffered as a result.”
Research tells us that by socializing with others, we stimulate the chemicals in the brain that help us to better manage stress and anxiety, Mackey said.
“People who spend a lot of time alone have an increased risk of depression. We crave interactions with others and socialization can lower the risk of dementia and help us to feel happy. Meeting new people by volunteering, taking a class, facetiming with family, eating with friends, joining a club or taking an exercise class.”
“Now that we have all learned about Zoom, there are more opportunities to interact with friends, loved ones or new acquaintances online,” she said.
Reaching out to help others who may be suffering can be difficult, Balzhiser added.
“We are built to persevere. And there is no blood test for mental health issues; no X-rays.”
So, Balzhiser said, people have to watch for clues.
“We think of children as being resilient. But they don’t have the coping skills adults do. Yet, with depression, they may act out, or withdraw. So, we look for any changes in behavior.”
And Mackey and Balzhiser said we have to be vigilant about our own feelings; not being afraid to reach out for help because you think you’re different.
“It’s like having diabetes or another condition,” Balzhiser said. “It is an illness. And treatment is available.”
Mackey said if you begin to feel like you are struggling with depression or anxiety or other dramatic changes to how you think, feel and behave, ask for help. Suggestions include local senior services centers or your insurance provider, who can suggest practitioners, hospital emergency rooms, peer support groups and not-for-profits.
“NAMI Will-Grundy provides peer support for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and their families,” she said. “A full description and schedule of services is provided on the website, namiwillgrundy.org, or call 815-409-7917.”
Balzhiser said those with questions can reach out to Behavioral Oaks staff as well. She hopes the passing of a high-profile person such as Naomi Judd can motivate someone to call for themselves or a loved one.
“Sometimes, this is what it takes to normalize an issue perceived to have a stigma,” she said. “Maybe, they were a big fan of Naomi Judd and realized it can happen to anyone. Because it can.”