Facing grief, hearing voices, fighting addiction, stopping cutting, riding the rollercoaster of manic depression.
These are all experiences that some people have with their forms of mental illness. Why is it, then, that the moment the words, “mental illness” appeared in your line of sight, you froze? Your back straightened. You may have looked around as if to see if anyone else was looking. You may have even gasped inaudibly.
Don’t feel bad. Everyone does that. It’s our natural response to the conditioning we’ve received regarding discussions about mental health.
When we hear of someone who suffers from anything from prolonged sadness to schizophrenia, we shake our heads solemnly side-to-side in piteous sympathy for the poor wretch and his long-suffering family. Sometimes, we even grow impatient with the sufferer.
“Why can’t they just get over it? Toughen up! Stop being a drama queen!”
It’s not that simple, my friends. It’s just not.
Even staying on a treatment regimen is difficult for those of us who are fighting our denial.
So, as you hear yourself speaking the words above, I just ask the following:
Stop it. Just stop it now.
If I said I had cancer, you would likely feel awkward, but concerned. If I said I had to have a root canal for a long-term dental condition, you would regale me with a story of your own endodontic therapy. Yet, if I tell you that I have mild bipolar disorder, you become frightened.
Well, I have mild bipolar disorder, as well as seasonal affective disorder.
If you’re agitated by knowing that about me, I’d ask you if you are frightened that my mental illness is catching, or if by hearing it, you will soon discover that you or someone you love will be diagnosed with some like condition. In this particular case, ignorance is complete bliss. It is the kind of bliss you fight hammer and tong to maintain.
I understand, though. I really do. I’m just asking you to rethink your belief system about mental illness. I’m inviting you to become more educated about this pervasive disease.
The latest numbers by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that 26.2 percent of adults, 18-years-old and older, have some form of mental illness. No wonder we worry about it when fully 1 in 4 Americans have to contend with it. What does it say that 57.7 million people in the United States of America have been diagnosed with some mental disorder. That’s not including the many who are suspected to have yet been diagnosed and/or treated.
With the economic crisis still causing fear, with the threat of terrorism crossing our borders, with the increasing costs of medical care decreasing our treatment resources, we are being herded like sheep into a world of untreated mental illness. Only through education and activism are we able to find our way out of this morass.
The last thing we need to add to this process is shame. The truth is, shame is a very real component for most people with mental illness. That, more than anything, must change first for real social growth in this area to happen.
Having been a consumer member of the Executive Board of Directors for the Northern California chapter of the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) many years ago, I know that this organization can be of immense assistance to all people involved in the mental health arena. As patients, diagnosed or not, family members, friends, and co-workers, I’m asking that you take this step in participating in the care of those most at risk.
Education is a small thing to ask. Take 15 minutes. Look up a definition for something you’re interested in knowing more about on the websites for NMHA, or the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) or the WebMD Mental Health page. Your choice to investigate another’s process will make all the difference in the world. It will be a testament to your love and concern.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and to go the websites I’ve recommended. With your fearless choice to grow in understanding, you have no idea just how important your education is to others and to yourself.
By the way, what’s it like to have such an open heart?