May is Mental Health Month

One in every five people in the US carry some sort of “mental Illness” diagnosis – 20% – making it almost twice as common as killer heart disease, yet people hear the term “mental illness” and pictures of unshaven, alcohol-soaked homeless men and babbling old women with uncombed hair and too many cats come to mind (Don’t judge me!).

In reality, that’s far from the common truth. The umbrella term of “mental illness” includes everyone from your depressed cousin, your churning anxiety over political situations, and Uncle Louie, who served in Iraq and spends most days with his friend Jack Daniels. It includes the teen with autism who works down at the laundromat (don’t jump on me; a strong majority of autism includes OCD and anxiety, with phobias topping the list at 30%), the hoarder you drive past on your way to work, that girl on the cheerleading team who wears a baggy size 0, and that guy at work who stays four hours later than anyone else and talks so fast you can’t follow him. It includes celebrities, like Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Robert Downey Jr, Brittney Spears, Carrie Fisher, Brooke Shields, and so many more.

“Mental Illness” is more common than COVID.

While some introverts have fared well through the pandemic and quarantines, many people have not. Rates of depression in adults went from 8% pre-pandemic to 28% – almost one in three – after. For those who lived alone, the rates approach 40%. Isolation, job loss, poverty, loss of loved ones, anxiety, and long-haul COVID symptoms all play their part in feeling crushed by a microbe. Among children, who can’t always understand the details of what’s going on, rates of depression and anxiety straddled 40%.

Unfortunately, our image of “mental illness” is tainted by historic images of schizophrenia, the king of all mental illnesses, and often the most resistant to treatment. We watch movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while not remembering that these movies depict mental illness treatment from as much as 70 years ago, when diagnoses were vague, medications were ineffective and dangerous, people believed in insulin comas and the disaster of lobotomies, and there were no PET or MRI scans to show exactly what the problem was. There was a time not very long ago when the number one treatment for syphilis was mercury. Times have changed, and chances are there’s actual help for that now.

How can something affecting 30% of the population be abnormal? Here’s a fact: it’s not, but our refusal to admit it keeps people feeling ashamed and afraid to seek treatment. If you feel down, if the social distancing and anxieties are getting to you, if your child is fearful and withdrawn and having trouble sleeping, reach out! Help is just a phone call away. No insurance? No worries. There are places to help you get medical coverage, and places that work on a sliding scale. There IS help, for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you feel like life is overwhelming you, if you are worried about a loved one, if you are struggling with just getting through your day, CALL the CT ACTION line (Adult Crisis Telephone Intervention and Options Network). It’s available 24 hours a day, because the worst thoughts usually happen during the night.  1-800-467-3135,  or just call 211, which is the general help line for state services.

Don’t want to feel like you’re the only one on the planet feeling down? Check out these popular books and films on people having difficulties. Chances are, yours aren’t that bad.

Set in Connecticut: Fiction about the Nutmeg State

You might think a small state like Connecticut might not find itself as the setting for very many stories, but that’s not true! There are dozens of tales set in the Nutmeg State. You can begin with the fictional town of  Briar Creek, Connecticut where the Library Lovers mystery series by Jenn McKinley takes place and then move on to the strangely named Frog Ledge, Connecticut, home to the characters in Liz Mugavero’s Kneading To Die the first book in the Pawsitively Organic mystery series.

Some other recommendations if you want to indulge in a little fictional Connecticut scenery:

 Last Night at the Lobster: A Novel by Stewart O’Nan
Managing a failed seafood restaurant in a run-down Connecticut mall just before Christmas, Manny DeLeon coordinates a challenging final shift of mutinous staff members, an effort that is complicated by his love for a waitress, a pregnant girlfriend, and an elusive holiday gift.

This book was named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly and was a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

 Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Back in his fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School — where young  Felix Funicello learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants. Wishin‘ and Hopin‘ barrels toward one outrageous Christmas. A vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we’ve been — and how far we’ve come.

 Dune Road by Jane Green
Set in the beach community of a tiny Connecticut town, the heroine is a single mom who works for a famous–and famously reclusive–novelist. When she stumbles on a secret that the great man has kept hidden for years, she knows that there are plenty of women in town who would love to get their hands on it–including some who fancy the writer for themselves.

 

 The Land of Steady Habits: A Novel by Ted Thompson
For Anders Hill, long ensconced in “the land of steady habits”-the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot the commuter rail line-it’s finally time to reap the rewards of a sensible life. Into his sixties and newly retired, Anders finds the contentment he’s been promised is still just out of reach. So he decides he’s had enough of steady habits: he leaves his wife, buys a condo, and waits for freedom to transform him. But as the cheery charade of Christmas approaches, Anders starts to wonder if maybe parachuting from his life was not the most prudent choice.

 Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker
In the aftermath of the collapse of Weiss & Partners investment bank, CEO Bob D’Amico’s daughter Madison, her mother, her best friend, her nanny, and a family friend begin to question their shifting roles in the insular, moneyed world of Greenwich, Connecticut. All these women have witnessed more than they’ve disclosed and must ask themselves: where is the line between willful ignorance and unspoken complicity?

 Housebreaking: A Novel by Dan Pope
When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love, Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her lawyer husband and their daughter, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings.

 The Beach at Painter’s Cove by Shelley Noble
The Whitaker family Connecticut mansion, Muses by the Sea, has always been a haven for artists, a hotbed of creativity, extravagances, and the occasional scandal. Now, after being estranged for years, four generations of Whitaker women find themselves once again at The Muses. Leo, the Whitaker matriarch, lives in the rambling mansion crammed with artwork and junk. Her sister-in-law Fae is desperate to keep a secret she has been hiding for years. Jillian, Leo’s daughter, is an actress down on her luck. She thinks selling The Muses will not only make life easier for Leo and Fae, it will bring her the funds to get herself back on top. Issy, Jillian’s daughter, wants to restore the mansion and catalogue the massive art collection. Can these four generations of erratic, dramatic women find a way to save the Muses and reunite their family?

Prefer ebooks? Click here for a list of fiction ebooks that take place in Connecticut.

Downloadable Audiobooks your thing? Try these.