Most people were probably not aware that the first week in October was Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Mayor Alan Arakawa happily signed the proclamation in the stunning conference room on the ninth floor of the Kalana Building on a warm, sunny morning. He has been a strong supporter of the needs of our community, and although a seemingly cursory event, it has deep meaning. Although the week is long past, I'd like offer a largely under-acknowledged point of experience: the recovery process can work.
As someone who works directly with individuals who experience homelessness, I meet a wide array of people. Some have mental health challenges and some do not. Just today I met a young gentleman who reminded me why it is so great to get out of bed and do what I do. In fact, I said that out loud to him. The stories of what lead people into a place where they are scrambling to survive are amazing. Some paths are predictable, yet most are not. It's the "most are not" that I wish to represent.
Serious and persistent mental health challenges generally do not sneak up on someone like a cold, which can descend upon a person a few hours or a day. The symptoms can erode someone's life, chipping away at the things that the person values, such as their job or their family. The social network will eventually dissolve and the person then becomes isolated. This, although it can take place over an extended period of time, can be alienating and frightening, and ultimately debilitate the person, leaving them extremely lonely and unsure how to manage their life.
Many things can happen. The person will respond one way depending upon if they have anyone to support them, and another if they do not. To recover, they will need someone to remember who they were, not what illness they have become. Symptoms like anger or withdrawal can be difficult to understand and it sometimes is much easier to discard the person rather than work with the illness. Family members/friends/coworkers are rarely trained on how to respond to the changes in a person, and they feel helpless and frustrated. A loss of job or loved one or a broken relationship can easily trigger a spiral into emotional difficulties that can result in someone being lost in life and living on the beach or in a shelter.
That is where I may have the pleasure of their acquaintance. Mental health issues and homelessness are extremely humbling and it takes an enormous amount of courage to dig out. Everyone is aware of the stigma associated with these conditions. I would like to convey my respect to those who are overcoming these difficult challenges.
Our local agencies that help homeless individuals do a great job with the resources they have. I hear frustration from both sides that they wish they could do more. Despite the limitations and although we only take one week out of the year to acknowledge this emotionally and economically expensive life issue, it is my sincere hope that a few more people will get help before the spiral takes control.
There are two events to consider supporting coming up in November: Homeless Awareness Week and the Homeless Health Fair on Nov. 18 in Kahului at the Salvation Army. Together, we can inspire each other and rediscover the beauty in life, regardless of your mailing address.