the mood changed

“ We talk about mental-health in a reactive way, after a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain commits suicide.  Part of me wonders, if we were to normalize talking about mental health, how many people could we keep from that kind of suffering?” (This sentence appeared at the end of an article that I read recently.)

Most people just do not want to talk about mental-health illness.  The topic of mental-health illness is not found on any list of acceptable subjects for polite conversation.  If the topic creeps in during an evening gathering, the tone of the conversation changes.  People get quiet.  A hush comes over the room.  Eye contact ceases.  People begin to look down into their laps or off to the side.  They squirm in their seats, and sit counting the minutes until the conversation can be changed.

Just the other evening I was with a group of wonderful, bright, witty women, all of whom happen to have partaken in therapy at one time or another.  They are no strangers to the concept of seeking help, and of knowing the benefits of that help.  However, only one of these women knew that I had actually suffered from depression and anxiety.  We were all laughing, drinking, eating, and sharing personal stories.  After awhile, each person had made an off-handed reference to their experience with therapy, leading me to feel safe enough that I could share my story with these wonderful, bright, witty women.  At a moment in the conversation that seemed apt for an appropriate segue, I shared that I write a blog about mental health, and in particluar about the stigma that is so unfortunately attached to it.  I was immediately aware of the change in the mood around me.  Everyone got quiet.  No one knew what to say.  Wonderful, bright, witty, women, all of whom had some experience with a mental health issue, and perhaps even the medications that often accompany a mental health problem, were embarassed by my acknowledging my own battle with mental illness.  To this moment, I do not remember how the conversation moved forward.  I became self-concious, and I know I stopped talking.  The evening continued on, but this incident will certainly make me think carefully before sharing that information again.

If this can happen to me, someone who writes a blog about mental health, someone who can speak about it a bit more freely than many others, how can we expect the average joe to find this topic comfortable?  If the people who understand it are uncomfortable, then how can we expect those who have no idea about mental health illness begin to gain a level of comfort in a conversation dealing with this topic?

The solution to getting rid of the stigma that accompanies mental illness needs to start with us – the people who have a mental illness.  We need to be the ones to speak up and out about our own experiences.  Let people know that we are normal, wonderful, bright, witty, people with a health issue.

Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

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Inch by Inch

Inch by inch and step by step we are making progress in the battle against the stigma related to mental-health illness.  The progress has been slow for sure, and comes primarily in the form of articles being written about the existence of this stigma.  The stigma is definitely still a factor in the mental-health conversation, but at least people are talking about that stigma.  Does that sound like progress?  Yes, it does, certainly to me, because we are talking about and acknowledging the existence of mental-health issues.  We are not ignoring the topic hoping it will go away.

Each of these articles to which I referred above talks about people, famous and not-so-famous, admitting that they have mental-health challenges.  Carson Daly, host of The Voice and a contributor on the Today Show, admits battling a panic and anxiety disorder since childhood.  Charlamagne Tha God, a radio host and best-selling author of Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, admits that even though he talks and writes about having mental-health issues, he is still not totally comfortable with this persona.  Allison Schmitt, a gold medal Olympic swimmer, Kevin Love, a professional basketball player, Jason Kander, a politician, and so many more well-known people have come forward and raised their hands and said, “Yes, I have a mental-health challenge.” But even with so many people confessing to having mental-health issues, we unfortunately are still not free of the stigma.

Our society has a long way to go to get up to speed on accepting mental-health illness and treating it like any other illness.  Until that happens, people will remain wary and reticent in seeking help for their mental-health issue. Depression will go untreated.  Anxiety will go untreated.  Panic disorders will go untreated.  Bi-polar disorders will remain in the closet.  And this result is so unfortunate, because there are so many ways to get help and lead a healthy, productive, and normal life.

For resources for help please refer to the list below.

 

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Ready Again

I would describe the challenges of the past year, some of them sad and painful, and some of them wonderful and validating, but the point of my blog is to help to remove the stigma from the words mental illness,not to provide a diary of the details of my own journey.  However, I will tell you that all of these challenges coming one after the other , both the good and the bad, made the journey of the past year difficult.  And yet, I have made it through, almost intact, by putting one foot in front of the other, and asking for help when I needed it.

Although taking a pause in writing for my blog, I did continue to read articles and listen to interviews about mental health issues.  I realized that there are a lot of people thinking and talking about the stigma of mental illness, and how that stigma is keeping many people from getting the help they need.  That ongoing conversation helps me believe that we are on a path that will lead us to a kinder and gentler world for mental health sufferers.

People are increasingly talking about mental health.  One of the points that is being made repeatedly is that getting help for a mental illness is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.  They are asserting that anyone, from any country, with any kind of socio-economic background, with any kind of job, with any kind of public recognition, with any kind of family, with any kind of profession, with any kind of financial resources, can be touched by a mental health illness.  Just as with any other illness in this world, mental health illness knows no boundaries, and all men and women are equally susceptible.

Below you will find a list of some of the many organizations that can provide help to those who are touched by mental illness and would like to find a path to achieving wellness:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

A Good Step

Articles about opioids and drug abuse, publicity about hazing on college campuses, ads about sanitary napkins and other menstrual products, articles about birth control, advertisements about solutions for erectile disfunction, and even a few conversations about mental health issues, have creeped into our lives.  Once forbidden public topics, these personal aspects of our lives appear to be part of a growing set of acceptable mores.  Some of the stigma attached to these topics is sloughing away.  Slowly for sure, but nonetheless little by little, it is becoming acceptable for a human being to have an imperfection.

So we appear to be making some progress in the field of taboos.  What does that mean for those of us who are challenged by some of these taboos?  What does that mean for those of us challenged by the taboo of mental health illness?  Truthfully, I am not sure of the answer.  I am only sure that every little step of progress towards making mental health illness less stigmatized is a good step.

Treatable Maladies

I remember the pain of suffering from depression and anxiety.  I hated that pain.  It was emotionally crippling, just like having arthritis can be physically crippling.  I don’t want others to feel that kind of pain.  I know that I am not able to eliminate mental health illnesses from our list of worldly challenges, but what I can do is encourage those who need treatment for a mental illness to get the help they need.  There are now many ways to treat the depression or anxiety that is the cause of the pain, and there is no reason to continue to suffer.  Mental illnesses are treatable maladies.

When I suspect that someone is feeling the discomfort of anxiety, I want to reach out with my arms and my words.  I want to encircle them with a hug that will protect them from the reality of their pain.  I want to squeeze them so tight, that there is no room left for their pain.  I want to say something that will magically lift away the weight of their mental illness.  I want to let them know and feel that everything will be all right.  But, this goal is not based in any reality, for I know that healing comes from the within, and each person must do his/her own work to heal.  However, that desire to protect others from the pain of an untreated mental illness is the reason I write this blog.  I believe a productive approach through which I can assist others is to help erase the stigma surrounding mental illness, and hopefully once that stigma is gone, mental health sufferers will be more comfortable seeking treatment.  Treatment will help them eliminate their own pain.

Glenn Close and Patrick Kennedy Speak: When Famous People Speak We Listen

I just finished reading an article, in the New York Times, of an interview with Glenn Close and Patrick Kennedy entitled, Glenn Close and Patrick Kennedy on the Weight of Mental Illness They were being interviewed by Philip Galanes about their respective interest in the fight for better understanding of the mental health issue and the stigma attached to that illness.  Glenn Close started an organization called BringChange2Mind(BC2M), because she was deeply effected by the fact that her sister and nephew have had a long battle with bipolar disorder.  Patrick Kennedy started an organization called the Kennedy Forum, and Mr. Kennedy has also written a memoir entitled A Common Struggle.  Both endeavors are as a result of his own struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder.  Both BC2M and the Kennedy Forum are speaking to the history of the stigma of mental health illness and how that stigma needs to be eradicated.  You can access the article through the hyperlink above, and attached below is the article itself, which is well worth reading.  Please take what will be a well invested ten minutes to read it.

 

Carrie Fisher and Mental Illness

I appreciate Carrie Fisher’s intense honesty about her struggles with mental health, in particular with bi-polar disorder.  I am not so sure that one voice makes a huge difference, but every voice counts, and especially her’s, which was funny, clear, loud, and well-known due to her fame.

Ms. Fisher had a rough time of it after her diagnosis in her mid-twenties, choosing for a period of time to drown her diagnosis in alcohol and drugs.  By her thirtieth birthday, Fisher had come to terms with the fact that her bi-polar disorder was real.  From the moment of her acceptance, Fisher embraced her illness and recognized that the disease was medical in nature. She never succumbed to feelings of shame about her chronic mental illness.  In her mind, she knew it was due to a chemical imbalance, and this chemical imbalance was no different from any other medical condition.  It is reputed that her brutally honest reaction to, and acceptance of, her bi-polar disorder brought some normalcy to perceptions about mental health illness, proving that even an intelligent, cool, and successful person can have a mental illness and still lead a normal, productive, and stimulating life.  Many of us who deal with a chronic mental illness know this to be fact.  We know that we can lead successful, productive, and happy lives. We are not the ones who need convincing.  It is the larger (but shrinking) community that has never experienced mental illness that needs to understand the normalcy of our particular abnormality.  When the outside community begins to accept the normalcy of this disease, it will make it easier for all of us to feel unashamed.

Today, perhaps in part because of Carrie Fisher’s honesty, more people are talking openly about their own struggles.  More programs have been established to help people face and manage their own mental illness, and to educate their families and the population at large.  With greater openness on the subject of mental health, more people are reaching out to get the help they need. And all of this is good.