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The Toughest Fight Ever …

“Mental illness is a very powerful thing. If it is with you, it is probably going to be there until the day you die. I am trying so hard to break mine, but it is not easy. It is my toughest fight ever.” These are the soul-wrenching words of former professional boxer Frank Bruno. As both the World Boxing Council and European heavyweight champion, Bruno was a very accomplished fighter that struck fear in the hearts of opponents unfortunate enough to face him in the ring in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In fact, he won an amazing 40 of 45 professional fights (38 by knockout).

Ouch, my body hurts just thinking about it! Bruno was brutal, violent and fearless in the ring, but, by his own admission, he has been KO’d and dropped to the mat of life numerous times by mental illness—an unrelenting disease that, even today, still attempts to wrap its manipulative tentacles around his mind. Like so many others that have faced mental illness, a silent but desperate battle has raged between Bruno’s ears over the course of many years, greatly impacting not only Bruno but those closest to him.

The month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and, let’s face it, nothing can be as serious as the state of one’s mental health. The numbers are sobering. According to statistics cited by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. Moreover, half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. In 2014, more than half of children 8 to 15 years of age received mental health services of some kind. And sadly, 41 percent of adults in the U.S. with mental health conditions receive no mental health services at all. Furthermore, economic studies reveal that mental illness costs the U.S. economy as much as $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

As Bruno stated, mental illness can prove to be the toughest fight ever for anyone at any age. The natural question that arises is, “How does one develop this dreaded and debilitating disease?” Certain factors may increase one’s risk of developing mental health issues, such as having a parent with a mental illness; chronic or ongoing medical conditions; and traumatic life experiences, such as death, abuse, or even divorce. And it takes on many forms, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, phobias, depression, and even bulimia nervosa.

This is a formidable opponent in the ring of life that can knock out anyone. It is no respecter of race, status or position. In fact, given its pervasiveness, you probably know someone personally that has been hit right between the eyes, like Bruno, by this silent mind snatcher. I certainly do.

However, there is hope with proper treatment and support. It is possible for one to fight and win this battle against mental illness—going on to live a “normal” and productive life. But it takes tremendous courage and resolve to keep this opponent on the mat. Here are some others that have found success even while fighting this foe. You may know some of them: Brooke Shields; Sheryl Crow; Peter Gabriel; Mel Gibson; Demi Lovato; Nobel Prize winner, the late John Nash; the late president John Quincy Adams; and even the late neurologist and founder of modern psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.  

Like Bruno, if you or someone you know is “fighting the toughest fight ever,” help them keep fighting, seek professional help and don’t do it alone. Hope can knock out helplessness through courage and determination.

In your fight corner,

Annette Briggs

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