Destigmatizing mental health through awareness

Chances are you either know someone who struggles with mental health or you have yourself. This May and beyond, work towards raising awareness about this common issue.

The episode “MISSING: Diane Louise Augat” from the Crime Junkie podcast tells the story of Augat, who went missing on April 10, 1998. After being gone for a few days, Diane’s family knew they needed to file a missing person report. They were worried not only because she was missing, but also due to her bipolar disorder and failure to take her medications, all of which contributed to her associating with the wrong crowd and engaging in risky activities

The day she went missing Diane was seen throughout town acting strangely an hour away from where she was staying, meaning she was either walking on foot or got a ride. The family also received phone calls from Diane not long after she went missing saying “Help me” and then “Let me out” before the call ended. 

A few days later a finger was found on the side of the road that matched Diane’s prints. As of today, she is still missing and her family has no answers as to what happened to her. 

Mental health is a very real and prominent issue that we all are likely to deal with in some way or another in our lives.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that bipolar “is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Recognizing and diagnosing bipolar disorder can be difficult, as you have to have experienced at least one manic or hypo-manic episode in order to receive a diagnosis. However, many people may not recognize these episodes as problematic since there are often elevated moods associated with them

The National Institute of Mental Health goes on to explain that “[s]topping psychiatric medications suddenly can cause a range of symptoms … If you suddenly stop taking lithium, one of the drugs most commonly prescribed to stabilize bipolar disorder moods, you can experience ‘rebound,’ a worsening of your bipolar symptoms.” 

Like in Diane’s story, her family talks about instances in which she would stop taking her medications, noting she would go out and her behavior would also change — oftentimes making impulsive decisions that would be made during a manic episode. 

This is why it is important to stay on medications and seek professional help no matter the mental illness. Medications are  there to make you balanced chemically, and suddenly stopping can cause worse symptoms than before.  

The sad truth is that people who have severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of crime. This could be partly due to the fact that they can be easily manipulated, especially if they are not on their medications, or experiencing a manic episode.

A background paper from The Treatment Advocacy Center explains that “Multiple studies have shown that individuals with serious mental illness are especially vulnerable to being victimized. Women who have severe psychiatric disease are especially vulnerable.” 

In Diane’s case, she could have been easily manipulated to go somewhere with someone, especially if she knew the person. Add in the fact that she was not taking her medications appropriately and not thinking clearly makes her an easier target as well. 

Even though this article is focused on one individual who has bipolar, it is important to know that all mental illnesses are important and all need to be better talked about. With the stigma that society places on mental illness, many people look the other way and blame something else, when in reality that person needs support from the people around them to get help and support in following the treatment plan set out for them 

As a society, we need to stop looking away from those with mental illness and give them the help that they need and make sure that they are no longer a victimized group for violence. We need to give them support, just like anyone else who needs it, and work needs to be done in order to destigmatize mental illness.

May is National Mental Health Month, If you or someone you know needs help with a mental illness check out these help lines:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine
Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. ET

National Suicide Prevention HotlineOpen 24/7
By phone: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) 
By text: send HELLO to 741741