Medicine for the Mind

8/13/2014, 2 p.m.
The power of positive thinking works.
Denise Rolark Barnes

Oprah Winfrey is one of hundreds of respected opinion leaders best known for her wealth but also for her motivational and inspirational expressions. She uses words to lift you up when you are down, and strives to help you through the tough times with simple yet positive idioms such as, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

It is true. The power of positive thinking works. It is more than the title of the renowned guide written by minister and author Norman Vincent Peale, whose book by the same title has encouraged generations to overcome worry, fear and negative thoughts by employing positive and spiritual techniques. Positive thinking is also made possible through religious worship, singing uplifting songs, associating with positive people and repeating daily mantras that teach you to love yourself even when the world seems to be fighting against you.

But what happens when the brain just won’t comprehend; when the mind not only says, “I won’t” but it concludes, “I can’t!”?

I know a gentleman who just turned 90 years old. All of his life, his friends and associates ad- mired him for being young at heart. He was a dapper dresser, still is. And he’s meticulous when it comes to grooming. But just a few short months ago, he decided that he could no longer walk. The physical therapist has advised his family that there is nothing physically wrong with him, but he argues that no one – including his doctor and therapist – knows what he is capable of doing. Only he knows. He says his mind is gone and that his body is quickly catching up with it. He has made it perfectly clear to his family and health care providers, “I am just tired.”

I also knew a woman who lived a relatively good life. She was married to a supportive man; they had one child – a handsome and talented son – and she was embarking on a promising legal career. But depression got the best of her and her physician prescribed antidepressants to manage, not cure, her psychological disorder. When faced with a divorce and the loss of her son, she spiraled deeper. Her friends who tried to intervene felt powerless in helping her to overcome her mental health battle. For a period of time she became homeless and spent many days riding Metro and evenings in the emergency rooms at hospitals across the city. It was painful to watch.

Readers of this month’s supplement, dedicated to mental health, can most likely point to dozens of friends, family members and associates, of all ages, that are facing their own mental health bat- tles. The issue is widespread, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness which reports that one in four adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17−about 13.6 million−live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and that mood disorders such as depression are the third most com- mon cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.

There is no get well quick approach to mental illness nor will mere words turn someone’s life around who has lost all sense of direction. The worse thing that can happen is to ignore the prob- lem or perpetuate it by mislabeling it. And try not to exacerbate it by attaching a stigma to it.

Help is available, beginning with the resources provided here. Get help for those who need it, including you.

Denise Rolark Barnes