Fourth of July conjures many images such as picnics, fireworks, and parades. The principal theme of our celebration is independence. Most people equate independence with some sort of freedom. But for those who suffer from any type of mental illness, freedom and independence may seem to be obscure terms with no applied meaning.

Independence is tied to our personal freedoms. But we do not become independent just by being free. In each of our personal paths to independence, we may get help from family, friends, fellow citizen, and organizations. Independence is a cherished value of Americans, including those with mental illness. Whether facing occasional depression and anxiety, or living on disability benefits with a major mental illness, there is a human yearning for both kinds of independence: the right to self-rule and the opportunity to be self-supporting in the freest setting possible.

There are many people with a mood disorder or other mental illness who may feel that they have been robbed of their independence by not only their condition, but by the very system which is supposed to help them. Awareness of your rights as an individual with a mental illness is the first step towards such freedom.

1. You have the freedom to seek support

It may seem inconsistent to speak about independence and getting support from others. Yet this social support is exactly what can help you to get on your feet and feel strong enough to combat your mental illness. There are many who have been through this to give you the support you need. There are numerous on-line support groups for different disorders as well as local meetings for support. Here are just a couple of links to get you started.

• The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one of the largest mental health organizations devoted to providing information and support to people with mental illness and their loved ones and family. They offer an information hotline and referral service which can be reached by calling 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). In addition NAMI has local chapters where you can physically meet up with others who are also affected by mental illness.

• The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is yet another excellent resource for anyone who is battling either depression or Bipolar Disorder. They offer on-line support groups which meet at selected times. In addition this organization offers information to find local DBSA chapters in your area.

2. You have the freedom to seek treatment

One of the worst feelings associated with mental illness and symptoms is the feeling of being trapped. You may wonder things such as, “When is this going to end?” or “How am I going to make it through another day of this?” The good news is that there is help and there is treatment for your situation so that you can regain your independence and sense of freedom. Here are some resources to help.

• The Psychology Today website offers a Therapy Directory for all fifty states. Just plug in your city or zip code and a huge list will come up of therapists.

• The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Locator (SAMHSA) will help you to locate all the mental health facilities and treatment centers in your geographic area.

Healthfinder.gov is a website that will assist you in finding a support group of individuals who are dealing with the same issues you are and give you a place to be heard and encourage healing.

3. You have the freedom to be your own mental health advocate

Every time you advocate for your own right to receive quality care in all sectors of life, you are also an architect for others who are facing the same challenges. Becoming aware and active is one way to promote freedom for you and others with a mental illness.

Final point of view. Independence requires responsibility. As much as we may feel like a victim of our mental illness or even the system, we are still responsible for our mental wellness. We do have choices although we may not see them. Being aware of your personal power to change your circumstance is critical for recovery. Each small step you take to help yourself is a step towards freedom.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness and needs help, please contact Mountain Lakes Behavioral Healthcare for more information and/or treatment options, visit mlbhcwebpage.com or call the Guntersville office: 256-582-3203 or Scottsboro office: 256-259-1774.

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