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According to the World Health Organization, “… nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime” and I’ve seen that number reported as high as 58 percent.

And this one from the National Institute of Mental Health, “Our best estimate of the number of adults with any diagnosable mental disorder within the past year is nearly 1 in 5, or roughly 43 million Americans.” The Kim Foundation puts that number a little higher at 26.2 percent or 57 million Americans.

I remember when I first encountered those statistics, two questions immediately jumped into my mind: why are those numbers so ridiculously high, and why doesn’t anybody know about them?

The Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder about a year ago. It completely caught me off guard. When I received the diagnosis, two slogans from my childhood jumped into my head.

The first, from GI Joe, is, “Because knowing is half the battle,” and the second, from afternoon specials, “The more you know…” rode a star across the screen. I’m pretty sure they arrived to a) prove how awesome advertising always sticks with us, and b) emphatically show how little I/we know about mental illness…

In my life to that point, I don’t remember thinking about, let alone having a second thought about mental illness. I was fairly successful. I was pretty good with people. I had friends. That didn’t seem like a person with a mental illness.

I was in the midst of Galvanize’s full stack development bootcamp, which is incredibly stressful, especially for someone coming from a writing background, with words, not code and variables.

Mental illness can be exacerbated by stress. That would be the understatement of the year in my case. I’d go from being on top of the world with enough energy to finally solve the Aanderaa–Karp–Rosenberg conjecture to laying in my bed for hours, going from terror to tears, because I couldn’t even get a console.log right.

I was having a really, really down day, which I used to define as “being in a mood”, when class let out for a break and I made a mad dash for the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this or for me to rub off on them. This was my misery and mine alone. So there I go, basically running out of the side door, leading the pack by a lot. I turned the corner down the alley and am in the final straightaway to freedom when a dear friend’s voice called out to me, “Patrick, stop!”

So I stopped because you can’t run from your friends. Well you can, but that’s just stupid! My friend, who has been through years of struggles both personal and psychological before being diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar, talked me through that moment and insisted that I see one of the most dynamic, firecracker of a psychiatrist named Dr. Jane Boyer.

Life After Acceptance

Through our sessions, so many things about my life seemed to make more sense. How I’d have fits of energy, sometimes for months, where I’d do things like: write a novel, decide I should start doing standup comedy and walk on stage the same night, remodel a cabin in the woods with no woodworking skills, let alone construction experience, or write, produce, and direct a play.

Those were, of course, balanced by months of avoiding anything other than work or being so terrified of human contact that I wouldn’t attend best friends’ birthday parties or make it home for the holidays.

Being diagnosed gave me such a better understanding of who I really am. And not in the context I had previously, that there were two Patricks. One, the public facing Patrick, who is a happy-go-lucky, confident, carefree extrovert and the other, a T-shirt and hoodie wearing, somber, sullen, yet funny introvert. But that these two people were me, just with different things going on in my brain.

No More Stigma

So why am I sharing this winding tale with you? Because without a friend’s insight, I would never have gotten treatment. I would never have even thought that a chemical imbalance in my brain could cause such profound changes on my mood and by consequence, my life. A chemical imbalance, that with the proper medication, could be controlled, keeping me from the unpredictable, cycling highs and lows that type 2 bipolar disorder brings.

We, as a society, are woefully uneducated about mental illness. We are unprepared to have a conversation about mental illness, and technically, we don’t even know how. Some of this ignorance comes from the stigma surrounding mental illness, absolutely, but we, as a society, have to take some of the blame for not reading an article, visiting a site or watching a TED Talk about mental illness.

I was lucky, blessed and fortunate to have amazing people in my life that helped me more than I can tell you. Absent those people, I truly don’t know where I’d be.

Now for my final points:

  • I really, really implore you to take and share this survey. It will quantify the current state of mental illness and what we know about it because we can’t understand, manage or treat what we don’t measure.
  • Take one of the mental illness assessments that’s out there. There’s a bunch out there or this one is supposed to be good.
  • Talk to therapist or a person you truly trust about what’s really going on in your head. You know, the really hard stuff. The stuff that keeps you up at night.
  • If you’re ever where I was on my lowest of low days, reach out immediately to a trained professional. You can send a text to the Crisis Text Line, chat online with iPrevail or call 7 Cups of Tea.

One of the keys to changing the conversation around mental illness is about replacing stigma with hope. A characteristic quality of stigma is a fear of the unknown. We’ll continue to share people and organizations that inspire hope for us. To see this change in your life and company, please reach out to Sigmend.com who are in the process of selecting companies to join their mental health accreditation pilot program. Change can happen, please help find out how.

Thanks so much for reading this and please take the survey. It’ll only take 10 minutes or so and you’ll be truly helping all of us better understand mental illness.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here

This was originally published here.


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Patrick Nicklaus Patrick Nicklaus
Patrick Nicklaus, a writer, developer and aficionado of tomfoolery & shenanigans, works on content, strategy, and technology at Sigmend (Boulder ’16). His type II bipolar diagnosis and the changes it caused led Patrick to help shape Sigmend’s mission to prove the value of investing in mental health.