By Gayle Greenberg | July 15, 2022

Mental health affects all of us.  I never use to think that.  I thought mental illness just affected a small few.  That most people could function just fine in society.  That we all had choices and we could just choose to function normally.  I now realize how wrong I was.

As an adult, I have experienced situations where choice was not the issue; that wanting to feel good and function normally in life was not a choice; and that in many situations, if not most, we all need help through mental health professionals to maintain our mental health.  This is not a sign of weakness; it is not a sign that we are not strong enough or good enough; it is just a fact that life can be overwhelming at times.  Here is my story.

Our son, Mitch, had cystic fibrosis.  As a young man in his 20’s he was experiencing tremendous pain and discomfort from exacerbations and from the excessive amount of coughing.  He understood how his life would be affected from this tragic disease.  He once wrote that he had lost more friends by the time he was 25 than most people lose in a lifetime.  His doctor prescribed medications for him to help with both mental and physical pain.  But Mitch felt he needed more than what his doctor would give him.  So, he found other ways to procure more pain pills and ultimately became addicted to them.  We finally realized what was happening and were able to wean him off the pills, but I was mortified and ashamed that my son would become addicted to drugs.  I never told anyone.  A year or so later I was talking with another CF mom and she began to tell me how her son became addicted to pain medication.  It was then I realized Mitch was not alone in this struggle and the issue was probably more common than I had thought.  After speaking with Mitch’s doctor and gaining his insight that many patients have trouble with substance abuse and mental health, we began advocating with the CF Foundation to address the issue of mental health within the patient population. Now, there is a social worker in every CF care center to help patients better understand and navigate their options.

My grandson is on the autism spectrum.  When he was first diagnosed and throughout his teenage years, my son and daughter-in-law realized they, as his parents, needed professional guidance in learning to cope with the issues at hand and how best communicate with their son.  The mental health professionals they worked with gave them the guidance and coping mechanisms they needed to ensure they provided the best surroundings for their son and family.

COVID also affected our family.  Another grandson, who was always a straight A student, had many problems with the isolation that COVID required.   In his junior year of high school, he went from straight A’s to not turning in his work and literally failing in all subjects.  He slept most of the time and hardly ever talked to anyone.  Thankfully, once his mother realized he was depressed from the isolation, she sought the help of mental health professionals who worked with our grandson. They were effective in helping him work through this challenging period. In the year that followed, his senior year, he was back to again excelling in school and will be attending college in the fall.

Through the years, as strong of a person as I think I am, I, too, have sought the advice and guidance of mental health professionals.  They have enabled me to realize that we all are affected by our surroundings and our environment.  And sometimes, we just need to step back and say “help!”.