ON MENTAL ILLNESS

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week

Our modern world has seen the eradication of many diseases. We have the ability to stay connected with billions across the globe with computers that fit into our pockets. Creature comfort luxuries are limited only by our imagination.

Yet for all the developments in the US and other wealthy nations, a shortened spoke undermines the smooth rotation of the wheel that is our society. For if one struggles with mental illness, it doesn’t matter the wealth one has or the resources or medications or therapists at his/her disposal. This realization struck home for me two years ago when Robin Williams took his own life.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the Happy Feet Press Junket in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. (Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP Images)
Robin Williams Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. (Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP Images)

Recently, his widow shared a letter about Williams’s final days suffering from Lewy body disease, a type of dementia. She writes:

He hated that he could not find the words he wanted in conversations. He would thrash at night and still had terrible insomnia. At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it. He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth. His loss of basic reasoning just added to his growing confusion. It felt like he was drowning in his symptoms…

Robin kept saying, ‘I just want to reboot my brain.’ (Full letter here: http://www.neurology.org/content/87/13/1308.full)

Williams suffered from a severe disease and ended his life because of it. But mental conditions don’t have to be severe to cause serious problems. Because like bumping an archer as he shoots an arrow, all it takes is a slight maladjustment for the end result to be significantly off. The archer can have the most expensive bow (technology), a healthy upper body (physical health), even a large target (opportunity). But if the aim is off even a few degrees (chemical imbalance), the arrow will be on a wayward journey (a life battling depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, etc.).

Our greatest asset–our minds, allowing for all our luxury and wealth–also happens to be that which we know so little about relative to all there is know about its inner workings. This deficit of knowledge and the severity of this problem is most clear in a wealthy country like the US, where even the richest of the rich can suffer greatly.

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, I’m moved to bring up this issue …

-as a personal goal to address this problem in whichever way I can–raise money for research, write about breakthroughs
-as a call for grace for those who suffer
-as reason for gratitude for our own mental health
-and for our own humility and awareness

Know that these problems exist. And so stay grounded to aid those who suffer and to cherish the healthy moments we have. As long as we have these illnesses, our “social wheel” will continue with a wobble. I write this to acknowledge those who suffer and the loved ones of those who do.

3 Responses

  1. Try having a diagnosed mental health problem and then be part of the judicial system. Law enforcement entities are woefully uneducated. Try being diagnosed as bi-polar and being in the manic stage and being accused of being on meth and/or coke because of it. The possibility of being jailed only makes it worse. Education and laws need to address this very real problem

    1. Where I live (Minnesota), we do a better job with criminals who struggle with chemical addiction. Hopefully other mental health concerns will be better understood as well by the courts. I also hope medical research can tackle these illnesses.

  2. Andrea

    I completly agree with Nemain! I belong to several mental health support groups via facebook and sometimes attend both my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meetings as well as my local community support program. All three things allow me to be connected to the mental health community. Nationally, our mental health system is broken. Through my groups, I’ve been alerted to cases where people- who should be treated in a mental health facility and are instead jailed without meds, etc. Last year, the sherrif of Hennepin County, Rich Stanek, commented in a Star and Tribune article that “I think quite honestly it’s society’s dirty little secret,” Stanek said. “We’ve criminalized those who suffer from mental illness. They end up in jail, stay in jail and recycle through the jail.” The Star and Tribune article goes on to say “Stanek has estimated that one-third of the roughly 40,000 inmates who pass through the Hennepin County jail annually need psychiatric treatment.” In my opinion, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015, and others like it, are just bandaids. Here’s my wish list for our mental health system: we would increase the number of mental health professionals- especially in rural areas; that all people with mental health symptoms would seek treatment; researchers would find better treatments; people would be med compliant and be able to afford their meds; we’d have transitional housing after care in hospitals; that there would be community support programs in every city and town; and lastly that individuals and families would be educated on how to not just cope with mental illness but live fulfilling lives and thrive despite a mental health diagnosis. Personally, I have been blessed: my family is supportive, I’ve always gotten treatment and for the majority of the time, been med compliant and have had little to no trouble finding mental health care (despite having more than a few bad encounters in the ER). My bipolar diagnosis is not the end of the world (even though it’s felt like that more than a few times) and I have faith that I am right where I am supposed to be: living and loving my elderly parents, supporting them just as they support me.

What say you?