May is mental health awareness month, but truth be told it should be a year-round focus. Those of you who have known me on a personal level have a pretty good understanding as to why I am so passionate about this and others may have an idea, but it is time that I share with everyone why this is such an important topic to me.
On September 5, 2004, we lost my brother-in-law Keith Milano to suicide. Keith had a long-fought battle with his mental health and bipolar disorder, something I was well aware of, and my wife Denise and I tried to support him in every way we could. What I did not realize at the time was that Keith could die from this disease. In my mind, Keith’s mental health would be something he struggled with throughout his life, we would support him as best we could and hope that one day he could find a treatment that he would benefit from and help him improve.
Keith had struggled with his mental health and he would tell us that he felt like he had the flu every day. On the outside, he was young, handsome, in great shape, and had a great life ahead of him, but on the inside, he was being eaten away consumed with a feeling that he was running out of time. I cannot imagine waking up every day feeling like that and being in a world that had no understanding or interest in understanding what he was going through. This was a moment that certainly impacted me and caused an awakening.
The Stigma is Not Gone
As a recent father when Keith died, Denise and I wanted to make sure that our family, our young son Zach and future addition Jeremy, understood what their Uncle experienced and that they could always talk to us about anything. We wanted to make sure they understood the importance of their mental health and those around them. We were very open about Keith’s struggles and ultimate death. The way we told them changed over time and we always discussed it with them in an age-appropriate way. Not telling them about their Uncle or changing the story to not be forthright was not an option in our mind.
Mental health seventeen-plus years ago had a significantly greater stigma than it does today. That stigma is not gone, but it is certainly moving in a good direction and continues to get better day by day and year by year. Mental health should not be stigmatized and I am willing to have an open conversation about it with anyone, anytime, and share our family’s story. It is stories like this, along with countless others, that will encourage others to seek the help they need too.
I recently had someone tell me that they do not refer to it as mental health and instead call it mental fitness and that resonated with me. Our mental health should be treated just like our physical fitness and it should be worked on every day. We all have physical fitness goals so why not have mental fitness goals too. I would make a case that our mental fitness is as important, if not more so than our physical health. Great mental fitness can help our physical fitness and vice versa. Use May as an opportunity to create your mental fitness goals and create a game plan to feel both physically and mentally fit.
This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice. Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss. To determine what may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor.