There are many faces of mental illness. People with mental illness are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members. It is a brain disease, an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry. Furthermore, mental illness doesn’t discriminate on the bases of age, ethnicity or gender. Mental illness affects one in five adults in a given year. To personalize this, in 2016 the population of Scott County was 139,490. That means there are as many as 27,000 in Scott County living with a mental illness.

The illness varies: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia. The facts from the National Alliance on Mental Illness are staggering: Six out of 10 of those with one are not receiving treatment. Five out of 10 age 14 or older drop out of high school. Eight out of 10 are not in the workforce.

So what can we do? Mental illness is treatable, and recovery is possible. Those that live with an illness need each of us for support. Living with an illness is not a choice but a disease just like diabetes. Helping can be easy: listening to a person without judgement, being compassionate and supportive, offering a ride to an appointment or work. Acts of kindness can make all the difference for the person living with an illness.

The holidays can be a challenging time for everyone. This is true for those living with a mental illness. Take a moment and look around and realize one in five are affected. Many living with an illness welcome a kind word, a supportive and non-judgmental comment. I often remind my friends and acquaintances we have a choice each day. We can approach life making the lives of others more difficult, or we can accept the challenge to make the lives of others more pleasurable through kind and compassionate words. We may never know, but our kind actions may actually save the life of another person.

Mental health is not just a medical condition but an opportunity for all of us to help those in need, even if all we do is listen. Remember, helping a person in need can bring each of us a moment of gratitude in our own life.

John Stadler is the chairman of the Scott County Local Area Council on Mental Health.

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