Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams and Why We Need To Be More Compassionate Toward Mental Illness

I have known many, many people throughout my life who have suffered from mental illness, specifically bi-polar (manic depression) disorder. It is a disease that is pure torture to the person who suffers it and to the people who love them. I have watched people I love go from smart, successful, funny, loving people to people who cannot control their behavior, their thoughts or the things they say, and who have lived a life with unspeakable events that they have either wrought onto themselves or events that have happened because of the terrible decisions they have made and who have put themselves into situations that have spiraled out of control. I have been worried. I have been angry. I have been a friend who stood by them staunchly and a friend who sometimes needed to take breaks from them because their destruction was overwhelming and uncontrollable, even while taking their medication. The helplessness I have felt has been…a hell of its own as I watched their descents into the pits of their living hell. 

I am sick and tired of mental illness being treated like a dirty little secret.  I am sick and tired of people suffering and not seeking treatment. I am sick and tired of people finding a sense of solace in drugs or alcohol instead of admitting they need help to themselves and to their families, and then seeking therapy. It is a sad society when saying someone’s an addict or someone has 20 kids by 20 different men/women or someone’s embezzled millions of dollars from people is more respectful than saying, “I have a mental illness”, “I have a therapist” or “I need to take medication to [mentally] live”. Mental illness has been around for centuries and it is not going away. There is no shame in having this illness, but people have made it shameful to admit, “we are not perfect”. No one on this earth lives a life with “no issues” whatever they may be. We may try to pretend our way through life, but life is a process of discovering ourselves and some people’s path are more challenging when our mind - that part of ourselves most of us trust and take for granted - seemingly works against us. I worked in a mental health hospital for a year and a half. I saw patients who came for office visits and those who were locked down on the psych ward. Guess what? They looked just like you and me. There for the grace…it was not you! 

As for suicide, people are always saying it is a selfish act and link that “selfish act” to it being selfish to the living left behind, but I will tell you right now, the act of committing suicide is NEVER decided lightly. Suicide is an act of sheer and final desperation. It is an act of release from a pain-filled existence that none of us who would “never do such a thing” can even remotely comprehend. Yes, you do feel the abject pain of loss and you most likely will never truly understand the why’s of the person you love taking their life, but if you do not suffer the illness, you can never know the toll and the many tries of getting better or the many, many ways of finding other solutions to be freed from the maniacal grip of that beast or – and this is extremely important - the many, many, many, many more times that person you love was on the precipice of ending their life…but chose not to for that day, that time or that moment. 

We make judgments, but we don’t walk in their shoes. Let’s get educated and let’s create a society where our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, priests, politician, electrician, bellmen and the homeless person on the street can not only get the help they desperately need, but also the love and understanding that can help them chose to live another day, rather than end their physical existence causing the ripple effect of a different kind of pain to those left behind.
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