Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each May.
“In 2019-2020, 20.78% of adults were experiencing a mental illness. That is equivalent to over 50 million Americans,” according to Mental Health America (MHA), a community-based nonprofit that partially promotes overall mental health for everyone.
Dana Hicks-Hungerford, a serial entrepreneur, currently resides in Maryland. She is the co-owner of the successful handbag line, Official Bag Ladies. Hicks-Hungerford is also an actress, casting director, producer, best-selling international author and playwright. She wrote and co-produced “A Woman’s Love” stage play with her husband, Brian Hungerford. She is also co-founder with her husband of Hungerford Distribution and United Star Casting.
While peeling back the layers of Hicks-Hungerford’s achievements, her journey reminds us that even successful people who have had spotlights shining on them, may have battled major obstacles or even endured undiagnosed mental challenges. This can lead to additional health problems.
“I overcame an ecstasy pill addiction that lasted over 15 years,” Hicks-Hungerford said. “I had a mild stroke and I truly think the pills had a lot to do with my health issues over the years.”
The entrepreneur added that her pill addiction began when she was approximately 22 years old. It extended into her late 30s. Additionally, Hicks-Hungerford had a stroke while she was still in her 30s. Overall, the entrepreneur stated that she is now in good health but takes blood pressure pills.
But Hicks-Hungerford reflects on a prior time in life. She stated that she was reckless and not showing herself the self-love that she deserved. Hicks-Hungerford even periodically took ecstasy pills following her stroke.
“I was drinking, partying, not drinking water, not eating healthy and still popping pills once in a while. All of those things contributed to me having high blood pressure, ‘aka’ the silent killer,” she said. “My mental breakdowns came when I was not taking pills, because it forced me to deal with the reality of me just being alive, yet not living up to my potential. That feeling made me feel like another pill was my medicine and the solution to my problems.”
Pia Johnson, owner and founder of Transformation Counseling Services, is a licensed master social worker with a concentration in clinical social work.
She explained the phenomenon of self-medicating:
“Self-medicating refers to the practice of using drugs, alcohol, or other substances or activities to alleviate the symptoms of a mental health condition without professional guidance or supervision,” Johnson said.
Seeking help for mental health issues can be a very critical step in regaining self-control. Misuse of alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription medications, or even engaging in compulsive behaviors like excessive gambling, shopping, or eating are forms of self-medicating, according to Johnson.
“People may turn to self-medication as a way to cope with distressing emotions, alleviate anxiety or depression, or temporarily escape from their problems,” Johnson also said. “Unfortunately, self-medicating is a relatively common occurrence among people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and are not seeking professional help.”
She also stated that substance use can also lead to addiction, which can further complicate treatment and recovery.
“The vast majority of individuals with a substance use disorder in the U.S. are not receiving treatment. 15.35% of adults had a substance use disorder in the past year. Of them, 93.5% did not receive any form of treatment,” MHA surprisingly reported.
Hicks-Hungerford explained that she never sought professional help to conquer her pill addiction. She also mentioned enduring a deep depression when her father passed away.
“He was my rock, my friend, my protector and my provider all of my life,” she said. “Nobody in my life including my family really knew how depressed I was on the inside, because I have always been the one to push through my pain.”
Hicks-Hungerford added that there were a few instances when she thought about committing suicide. Thoughts of her nieces and nephews gripped her sense of reason.
“I could not imagine their little hearts being broken and that gave me a wake-up call. I was mentally in shambles, but I was determined to get myself together by myself,” Hicks-Hungerford added.
She kept her promise to herself and proudly became a “new woman.”
“I love myself and I’m focused only on things, people and places that elevate [me] or bring me peace,” Hicks-Hungerford said. “I can now say that I have an amazing husband that loves every part of me and he could care less about my past. I’m mentally at peace and life is simply amazing.”