How mental illness creates an “invisible” diverse population

August 13, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity and Inclusion Committee of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual-orientations, physical abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn, and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

When you think of diversity, what comes to mind first?

Race. Gender. Sexual orientation.

What about mental illness?

It’s long been a goal of Edward-Elmhurst Health to view mental illness the same as any other health condition. If you have a heart attack, you seek cardiovascular care. If you’re depressed, you seek behavioral healthcare.

But mental illness creates an invisible diverse population. People don’t have to go public with their struggle, yet the internal battle presents a host of unique issues that others may not have to face.

Karri Baranak, manager of practice operations for Edward Medical Group, decided to tell her co-workers the real reason she was taking time off to seek treatment from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health for depression.

“The first week when I took off work, I just said I’m taking vacation,” she says. “When I needed a second week off for continuation of treatment in the full-day outpatient program, I decided I was going to tell people because that was easier than making up a story about why I was unexpectedly off.”

Everyone she told was supportive and expressed their relief that she was getting the help she needed.

“I was nervous about opening up about it,” she says. “But from there I just continued to open up. If someone asked me about it, I’d tell them I was in a treatment program and was doing well and it was really helping me.”

Eventually, her open-book philosophy extended beyond co-workers into her personal life, and her friends and family were equally supportive and inspiring.

“I have had depression for almost 20 years and it took me a long time to accept my depression for what it was. And to realize it wasn’t something I can control. There are ways to cope with it and handle it, but it’s always there for me,” Baranak says. “A lot of people lock up and don’t want to talk about mental health. But for me, it made a big difference being open about it, knowing I don’t have to hide it. Everyone around me knows and if I’m having a bad day, that’s all it is. I’m having a bad day. Whether it is depression related or not, we can all relate to having a bad day.”

Baranak says she likes that Edward-Elmhurst Health makes mental health support available for the well-being of its staff. She referenced the formation of the Healing Team to support staff members who were dealing with immense stress during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were so many unknowns at that time, so I thought that was huge,” she says. “They essentially said, ‘You need to talk to somebody? We’re here for you.’”

Baranak says that kind of emotional support is something everyone can model.

How can you help those around you who may have internal struggles of their own? Start with compassion. Be empathetic. Listen without judgment.

“Listening is huge. Listening without judgment. If you don’t know what to say, it’s OK. Just acknowledge without judgment. You don’t need to have advice, you don’t need to fix anyone. Just listen and be supportive”

Sometimes listening is all that needs to happen to make a person feel like they matter, she says. If you notice a change in someone’s behavior, bring it up. Say, “You seem to be a little down lately. Are you doing OK?”

“I functioned at a very high level without any issues, but inside I was crumbling,” Baranak says. “Sometimes it takes someone to go a little further than the routine, ‘How are you doing today?’ When you sense the answer ‘fine’ is not correct, try asking, ‘How are you really doing?’ I have found that repeating the question like this is sometimes enough to get someone to open up a bit more.”

“The biggest thing that helped me was when somebody would just listen and be available if I needed them.”

Linden Oaks Behavioral Health is here to help. As with any other illness, the first step to feeling better is identifying the problem. Our behavioral health assessment is a free, confidential evaluation of your symptoms conducted by a licensed counselor. Learn more.

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