This article appeared in the March 1, 2016 issue of the “Norwalk Hour”

Kicking Open the Door on Mental Health

By Alan Mathis


I want to share with you the story of my friend Diane. Diane struggled with a heroin addiction for many years. Although she went to treatment, she relapsed several times and heroin gradually robbed her of the basic elements of her life; family, job, friends.

After years of struggling, she took a step back and discovered the key to her recovery. She realized that she needed to begin by taking a look within and first treating the severe depression that had plagued her since before she ever even tried heroin. Getting help with her mental health changed Diane’s life.

Diane was able to take care of herself in a way that she never had before. She was able to find peace and balance and an existence that allowed her to finally treat the addiction that she had battled for so many years. Diane became committed to sticking to a new self-care regimen that included addressing her mental health issues. Most of us don’t follow such a personal mental health routine and there’s not anyone among us who wouldn’t benefit from one.

Most of us understand the importance of eating nutritious meals. Or getting a flu shot each year. We are all easily able to discuss our physical health, but we have a much more difficult time talking about mental health and wellness despite the fact it’s the key to tolerating stressors in life and keeping us healthy and happy.  This is the conversation we need to continue to have if we are ever going to learn what causes people to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, what motivates them to turn to alcohol and drugs as a source of comfort, and in too many cases as we have seen recently in our own area– what drives them to suicide. It’s time to kick open the door on our challenges to navigating life.

What causes someone to feel they can’t make it one more day?  What motivates someone to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol? To starve themselves or over-eat? We know that millions of people in the U.S. each year suffer from eating disorders and 50% of those individuals also abuse drugs and/or alcohol. There was the period after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 when we saw an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs as people turned to comfort themselves after witnessing what was the worst terrorist attack in America until 9/11. After the Twin Towers fell in 2001, those numbers spiked again. Why have we not been able to find a healthy means of coping.

Over 43,000 people in Fairfield County alone have a substance abuse problem and last year more than 700 people died in Connecticut from some type of drug overdose. It is all linked to mental health. If, and only if, we look at the stress factors in people’s lives will we truly get to the heart of what motivates people to abuse drugs and alcohol or to harm themselves in other ways.

How do we begin to change this?  Slow down.  Listen more.  Judge less and ask one simple question, “How can I help?”  We need to ask difficult questions: “What is making people feel uncomfortable in their own skin?” “What pressures in life have become too hard to handle?” “What pain are they trying to numb?” “What led 33,000 adolescents in Connecticut to use an illicit drug in the past month?” Then we need to listen –really listen to what the answer is because that is where we begin to make change happen. Otherwise we are putting a Band-Aid on a much larger problem that will fester and never go away.

The tragedy of losing anyone to addiction or suicide is something that I can never accept. Whether it’s by slowly succumbing to alcoholism or quickly ending one’s life, the result is the same and I know each of us can do more. I won’t ever stop trying to understand how we can get there.

If you are struggling, let me know. Take a moment to send me an email at alan.mathis@liberationprograms.org. You don’t have to struggle alone – I will listen. If you have a positive mental health routine and it’s made a difference in your life. Let me know.  I’d like to hear what worked for you.  And, if someone you know is suffering and needs help addressing their mental health in order to stop harming themselves. Let me know.  I will listen and try to help. The door to the conversation on mental health is open and I, for one, am more determined than ever to keep it that way.