The Fight Within: The Battle for Mental Health (2023)

An IT analyst teams up with a pup named Riley to support a loved one's battle against PTSD.

Editor's Note: Denver Water believes that mental health is essential to overall well-being. May isMental Health Awareness Monthand Denver Water believes it's important to keep mental health and available resources a part of the conversation.

Tracy Agrafas, an IT analyst in Denver Water's engineering department, grew up with many ties to military life, with family members serving in the US Army, Navy and Air Force.

"I have always been proud of my family's contributions to our military, and I grew up understanding the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in the military, as well as the sacrifices their families have to endure in the line of duty," Tracy said. .

These sacrifices can continue, for both the military and their families, long after the business trip is over.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 7% of all US service members will be affected.Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, in your life. For those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, that number rises to 29%.

This is the story of one of those families.


With so many ties to military life, Tracy wasn't surprised when the young man she struck up a conversation with on New Year's Eve just before early 2007 turned out to be an Air Force soldier.

Airman Publio Agrafas worked in telecommunications at Buckley Air Force Base and had returned a year early from a four-month stay in Kuwait at Ali Al Salem Air Base.

This conversation became an account five months later, when Publius was ordered sent to Iraq. He was one of more than 20,000 soldiers who participated in President George W. Bush's 2007 offensive against Iraq, aimed at increasing security in and around Baghdad.


Publius was part of a group tasked with maintaining security at Baghdad's international airport.

“We have been very lucky thanks to Publio's telecommunications work. Unlike others in the field, he was able to call home almost daily due to his knowledge of and contacts with the soldiers who ran the telecommunications systems. Honestly, that's probably what kept us apart since our relationship was so new," Tracy said.

While the couple was grateful for the chance to talk regularly, Tracy admits it was stressful at times.

“Some of the worst calls were when air-raid sirens were blaring in the background and Publio had to hang up quickly. I always waited and held my breath until the next time he could call,” he said.


Tracy did what she could to keep busy, writing her letters and sending her care packages.

"I put a lot of really useful things in the packages that you wouldn't normally think of as fun gifts, but those were the things that meant the most to him," Tracy said.

She filled the boxes with socks, T-shirts, lens cleaner, and some of Publio's favorite snacks and treats to remind him of home.

“Probably the weirdest thing I sent her were packets of Taco Bell mild sauce that I salvaged from trips around a restaurant entrance. Fresh food was limited, so they often had to eat MREs (prepared meals, which are the army's main food ration in the field). He used hot sauce to mask the taste of certain foods and make them tastier."

After a tour of Baghdad, Publius returned home, but Tracy knew almost immediately that he was not the same man who had left.

“The first thing I noticed when I picked him up at the airport was that he was very thin: he had lost at least 30 pounds. He seemed obsessed with trivial things and was easily angered,” he said.

"It was my first indication that what he had seen abroad made a strong impression on him."

Read more aboutVeterans at Denver Water.

Publius witnessed many acts of violence in Baghdad and saw many comrades lose their lives. These experiences affected Publius' mental health.

Over the next few months, Tracy watched the progress of her boyfriend's PTSD.

“What happened was absolutely horrible. He tried to deal with it the best he could, but he was withdrawn, moody and very angry. He insisted that he didn't want to take any medication and he didn't want to talk to me about what was going on," Tracy said.

But she did not give up.

Tracy began searching for resources inside and outside the military, making appointments, and encouraging Publio to speak with counselors about his experiences while serving in the military at Buckley.

“It was one of the most difficult periods of our lives. I was worried about his safety and sometimes wondered why I was there, why I was staying with him,” Tracy admitted.

“But our love for each other was strong. I think it gave us stability in these really difficult times. He was my best friend and I really wanted to see him improve. He kept me alive,” Tracy said.

The couple married in 2010 and things slowly began to improve as they learned to deal with the challenges of Publio's PTSD together.


In 2011, the newlyweds experienced a major turning point when they traveled to the SPCA to adopt a dog.

“Publio crouched down in front of the little terrier mix pup to greet him and she climbed on his lap and began licking him. We were sold for sure," Tracy said.

Their new dog named Riley gave them a glimmer of hope.

"The moment he jumped into his lap, I knew that everything was going to be okay, that Publius was going to be okay."

Riley gave Publio something to focus on besides the haunting memories.

“Riley helped him in a way that I couldn't,” Tracy said. “She helped him stop constantly thinking about the things she had seen abroad. She helped him think about the future and gave him a new purpose."

Soon after Riley joined the family, Tracy noticed a change in her husband. Purpose and passion reignited.


After completing four years of service, Publio left the military and used the GI Bill (a program that helps veterans and their families pay for college, graduate school, and apprenticeship programs) to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science and facilitate their transition to civilian life. life focusing on his mental health with his wife by his side.

After more than 16 years of being together, Tracy admits that her journey hasn't always been easy.

In 2022, they lost their love Riley to cancer. Which may have derailed Publius' progress, the pair bonded as they processed their grief.

“When Riley and I said goodbye, it was devastating. Publio and I have learned a lot from each other over the years, and we can count on each other to get ahead. But it was not easy. We still miss her very much,” she said.

And they still depend on each other at every milestone.


"I can never know exactly what it's like to go through something traumatic like Publio and other members of the ministry, but I do know what it's like to see someone you love struggle with PTSD," Tracy said.

“This applies to all aspects of the entire family. It's not just about getting help for your loved one, you need to find support for yourself as well."

At Denver Water, where Tracy began working in 2014, she found a caring and supportive community that included other military veterans and family members.


Tracy encourages anyone dealing with PTSD or any other mental health issue to seek help. However, she admits that it is not easy.

“There is such a strong stigma, especially among the military, that asking for help is debilitating. I've been fighting this Publio stigma for so long," Tracy said.

"Our soldiers should not lack for anything, they have made tremendous sacrifices and they must be taken care of, especially when it comes to mental health care."

Her biggest piece of advice to anyone seeing a loved one going through similar challenges? Be relentless.

"Don't let him give up and don't give up."



What is the hardest mental illness to live with? ›

Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPDs) become overwhelmed and incapacitated by the intensity of their emotions, whether it is joy and elation or depression, anxiety, and rage. They are unable to manage these intense emotions.

What is the most severe mental illness? ›

By all accounts, serious mental illnesses include “schizophrenia-spectrum disorders,” “severe bipolar disorder,” and “severe major depression” as specifically and narrowly defined in DSM. People with those disorders comprise the bulk of those with serious mental illness.

What is a good mental health quote? ›

Being able to be your true self is one of the strongest components of good mental health.” Lauren Fogel Mersy, n.d. “All stress, anxiety, depression, is caused when we ignore who we are, and start living to please others.” To maintain wellbeing, individuals need to recognize their inner strengths.

What are the 7 main mental disorders? ›

Many people also experience stigma, discrimination and violations of human rights.
  • Anxiety Disorders. ...
  • Depression. ...
  • Bipolar Disorder. ...
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ...
  • Schizophrenia. ...
  • Eating Disorders. ...
  • Disruptive behaviour and dissocial disorders. ...
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders.
Jun 8, 2022

What mental illness gets worse with age? ›

Personality disorders that are susceptible to worsening with age include paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, obsessive compulsive, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, and dependent, Dr.

What is the easiest mental disorder to treat? ›

Anxiety disorder is the most treatable of all mental illnesses. Anxiety disorder produces unrealistic fears, excessive worry, flashbacks from past trauma leading to easy startling, changes in sleep patterns, intense tension and ritualistic behavior.

What is the top 1 mental illness? ›

Depression. Impacting an estimated 300 million people, depression is the most-common mental disorder and generally affects women more often than men.

What is the most misunderstood mental illness? ›

Schizophrenia. The complexity of schizophrenia may be part of why the disorder is so misunderstood. The disorder affects thinking, emotions, and behavior, but it doesn't always look like what you might think it does.

What is the most treatable mental illness? ›

Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.

What are the signs of a mental breakdown? ›

feel overwhelmed — unable to concentrate or make decisions. be moody — feeling low or depression; feeling burnt out; emotional outbursts of uncontrollable anger, fear, helplessness or crying. feel depersonalised — not feeling like themselves or feeling detached from situations.

Where in the Bible does it talk about mental health? ›

We see this in God's creative acts of making humans in His image (Genesis 1:26–27), of giving them each other as companions (1:27–28), and of giving them a mandate to steward the earth (1:28–30). Regarding mental health specifically, the Bible contains no one word for mental illness.

What is a mental health motto? ›

If you feel life is sinking, try positive thinking.” “Mental health isn't a choice; recovery is.” “A healthy mind is the greatest treasure.” “Taking a step today will help you lead a better tomorrow.” “You're not alone—you have a community of people who support you.”

What are the 5 signs of mental illness? ›

5 Warning Signs of Mental Illness
  • Changes in personality. ...
  • Changes in emotion. ...
  • Isolation. ...
  • Sudden absence of self-care. ...
  • Sense of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed. ...
  • Warning Signs of Suicide.
Dec 17, 2020

What are the three biggest mental illness? ›

Of those, the three most common diagnoses are anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These three conditions make up around 30 percent of all diagnoses of mental illness in America.

What are the top 5 worst mental disorders? ›

Below are the five most common mental health disorders in America and their related symptoms:
  • Anxiety Disorders. The most common category of mental health disorders in America impacts approximately 40 million adults 18 and older. ...
  • Mood Disorders. ...
  • Psychotic Disorders. ...
  • Dementia. ...
  • Eating disorders.
Jan 30, 2020

What is end stage bipolar? ›

Although there is no official classification for end stage bipolar disorder, mild structural changes in the brain that lead to cognitive dysfunction can severely reduce someone's quality of life, especially toward the end of life.

What age does bipolar start? ›

Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after 40. Men and women from all backgrounds are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder. The pattern of mood swings in bipolar disorder varies widely between people.

Does bipolar turn into schizophrenia? ›

While bipolar disorder cannot develop into schizophrenia, it's possible to experience symptoms of both. Before you consult a mental health professional, here are a few things you should know about the two conditions.

What is the most painful mental illness to deal with? ›

Borderline personality disorder is one of the most painful mental illnesses since individuals struggling with this disorder are constantly trying to cope with volatile and overwhelming emotions.

How do you heal mental health? ›

10 tips to boost your mental health
  1. Make social connection — especially face-to-face — a priority. ...
  2. Stay active. ...
  3. Talk to someone. ...
  4. Appeal to your senses. ...
  5. Take up a relaxation practice. ...
  6. Make leisure and contemplation a priority. ...
  7. Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health. ...
  8. Don't skimp on sleep.
Oct 4, 2018

What is considered a serious mental illness? ›

Serious Mental Illness (SMI) – SMI is a smaller and more severe subset of mental illnesses; SMI is defined as one or more mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder(s) resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities (NIMH).

What country has the most mental illness? ›

Mental Health Statistics by Country
#CountryDepression Rate
111 more rows

Is there a mental illness that makes you not care? ›

If you have schizoid personality disorder, you may be seen as keeping to yourself or rejecting others. You may not be interested in or able to form close friendships or romantic relationships. Because you do not tend to show emotion, it may appear that you do not care about others or what's going on around you.

What is the most cause of depression? ›

There's no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers. For some people, an upsetting or stressful life event, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries, can be the cause. Different causes can often combine to trigger depression.

Why is BPD not taken seriously? ›

Clinicians can be reluctant to make a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). One reason is that BPD is a complex syndrome with symptoms that overlap many Axis I disorders. This paper will examine interfaces between BPD and depression, between BPD and bipolar disorder, and between BPD and psychoses.

Which mental disorder is least likely to be treated? ›

By contrast, teens suffering from phobias or anxiety disorders were the least likely to be treated.

How far back does mental illness go? ›

A genetic event 550 million years ago appears to have set the stage for our mental illnesses today.

Can you fully recover from mental illness? ›

It is possible to recover from mental health problems, and many people do – especially after accessing support. Your symptoms may return from time to time, but when you've discovered which self-care techniques and treatments work best for you, you're more likely to feel confident in managing them.

What happens to your brain when you have a mental breakdown? ›

Long-term stress can lead to structural changes in the brain, which can affect your memory and lead to difficulty concentrating. In extreme cases, too much cortisol can even lead to memory loss. For some people, excessive stress may cause insomnia, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

What triggers mental breakdowns? ›

A nervous breakdown is ultimately caused by an inability to cope with large amounts of stress, but how that manifests exactly varies by individual. Work stress, mental illness, family responsibilities, and poor coping strategies are all things that can lead to a nervous breakdown and the inability to function normally.

What losing your mind feels like? ›

Losing your mind may be experienced as extreme confusion, distress and/or dissociation from oneself. It may be so overwhelming that it leads to anxiety and panic attacks. You are not alone in feeling this way, and to answer the question again; it is highly unlikely that you're losing your mind.

How does God treat mental illness? ›

One of the ways that God shows us that he cares for our mental health is by providing us with the things we need - a great therapist, access to medication, time with Him, a good support system, or all of the above. Loving God with our minds can mean utilizing some of these things he provides.

What Bible verse to pray for mental illness? ›

Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

How to ask God to help mental health? ›

Dear Lord Jesus, I come before you to ask for the restoration and healing of my mind. Thank you that you became fully human and walked amongst us, so you understand the complexities of the human brain. So I lay this mental illness before the cross.

What is the key message to mental health? ›

Maintain positive relationships with other people. Feel they can contribute to the community they live in and live and work productively. Cope with the stresses of daily life and manage times of change and uncertainty.

What is a famous mental strength quote? ›

Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." -- Helen Keller. "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." -- Thomas Jefferson.

What to say to someone who is struggling with their mental health? ›

You could say something like 'its okay to feel like that' or, 'what you're going through sounds really tough'. Sometimes when you are struggling with your mental health, it can feel very lonely. By letting them know how they feel is valid, you are letting them know that they are not alone.

What are 3 signs of poor mental health? ›

  • Feeling sad or down.
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate.
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt.
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows.
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities.
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping.
Dec 13, 2022

What is walking dead syndrome? ›

Walking corpse syndrome (also called Cotard's syndrome or Cotard's delusion) is a rare neuropsychiatric condition in which patients believe parts of their body are missing, or that they are dying, dead, or don't exist.

What is the rarest anxiety disorder? ›

Illness anxiety disorder (hypochondria) is extremely rare. It affects about 0.1% of Americans. It typically appears during early adulthood. Illness anxiety disorder can affect all ages and genders.

Which is worse bipolar or BPD? ›

While people with bipolar disorder usually experience distinct periods (lasting days or weeks) of high and low moods over time, people with BPD often have rapidly changing moods. BPD mood changes may be more brief, but they can also be very intense. They make a person's mood more unstable.

What is the most common mental illness in the US? ›

Anxiety disorders are considered the most common type of psychiatric disorders in the general population.

Which mental disorder has the highest death rate? ›

The anorexia death rate is the highest of all mental illnesses as it is a very complex and complicated disorder. It requires early diagnosis and access to care with close follow-up and often long-term treatment. Each patient's risk must be evaluated individually.

Is bipolar or BPD worse? ›

While people with bipolar disorder usually experience distinct periods (lasting days or weeks) of high and low moods over time, people with BPD often have rapidly changing moods. BPD mood changes may be more brief, but they can also be very intense. They make a person's mood more unstable.

What is the hardest mental illness to diagnose? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms of this disorder overlap with many other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.

What mental illness is most treatable? ›

Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.

Can a mental breakdown last for years? ›

People experiencing a nervous breakdown may dissociate or have suicidal thoughts. Unable to perform the activities of everyday life, they usually require treatment from a mental health professional. A nervous breakdown may last for days, weeks, months—even years.

Can BPD turn into schizophrenia? ›

It's rare for borderline personality disorder (BPD) and schizophrenia to occur together, but it is possible.

What is a BPD Favourite person? ›

For someone with this type of BPD relationship, a “favorite person” is someone they rely on for comfort, happiness, and validation. The relationship with a BPD favorite person may start healthy, but it can often turn into a toxic love-hate cycle known as idealization and devaluation.

What does a BPD episode look like? ›

Things that can indicate an episode is occurring: Intense angry outbursts. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm behavior. Going to great lengths to feel something, then becoming increasingly avoidant and withdrawn.

What is the best job for someone with BPD? ›

Many people with BPD feel emotions deeply and find working in a caring role fulfilling. If you are an empathetic person, consider jobs such as teaching, childcare, nursing and animal care.

What personality disorder has no empathy? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is associated with an assortment of characteristics that undermine interpersonal functioning. A lack of empathy is often cited as the primary distinguishing feature of NPD.

Why do borderlines cut you off? ›

People with BPD often experience intense fears of abandonment and instability. To cope with these fears, they might use splitting as a defense mechanism. This means they might cleanly separate positive and negative feelings about: themselves.


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