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  • Naomi Vega

Pink Polka-dotted Elephant

Every year, October 10th is recognized as World Mental Health Awareness Day. However, due to the current world climate, pandemic social-distancing restrictions, race division, and our countries divisive political battles, acknowledging this big issue garnered minimal attention.


I saw a friend’s story the other day about a beautiful young lady taking her own life. A teenager. She had not even started living her life. Her parents will no longer see her graduate; get married; have children…live. Her life mattered. And though my heart shattered the day my son died, and we will miss some of those great/grand moments in his life, we were extremely blessed with 29 years of his life. My heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.


The Arizona Department of Health Services use an increase in deaths due to suicide and drug overdose during the COVID 19 epidemic. This is not just happening locally; this is happening everywhere. Imagine how you are feeling during all of these the isolation directives – not allowing your children to accompany you to the grocery store; no one allowed to go to school or choose hybrid schooling; not being able to go to the park; watch a live sports game; working from home as much as its benefit was sold in previous years, now appears as a bigger burden than a benefit.


National Center for Health Statistics completed a yearly study predicting the amount of drug overdose deaths – data shows a 17.59% increase of overdoses from March 19, 2020 – May 29, 2020. Arizona statistics showed that between the dates of February 2019 – January 31, 2020, the rise in drug overdose increased by 8.4%. However, I believe that that number is much higher and is more than an ugly painful reminder to me because my son’s death added to that number. Even that one addition was way too many.


Stress, isolation and losing a job can push those teetering on the brink of a breakdown, relapse, overdose into their dark abyss. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in April found that 45% of adults in the US said that their mental health has been negatively impacted. What about the kids and adults that hurt in silence? Those that remain battling their demons in darkness. There are barriers for them, whether it is a cultural boundary and/or another social determinant.


I have fought this battle in silence – as a recovering addict and strong advocate for treatment. Fought through words and as a passionate worker in this field as a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend. This year really nailed the need to restore that fire into my heart and re-implanted that seed of showing others that Mental Health Awareness matters – and let me remind you, Mental Health Awareness includes substance abuse disorders. My belief has always been to stabilize the addiction first and then address the mental health issue. Once those two truly work together can we begin to break the chains that bind each person struggling with both disorders and see a shift in recovery.


If this message helps you remember anything, it is this: Please stop and remember not all those that smile are truly happy. Not all that you see physically see/posted is the truth. That even the strongest and most “put together” people are struggling. Please stop fighting with each other over differences and learn how to accept individualities exactly where they are in life. We are all human, make mistakes but we all need at least one other in our life. Most importantly, let us start acknowledging and talking about the important things that truly affect a person instead of continuing to ignore the pink elephant in the middle of the room.


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