Mental Illness Bites

Today, right now, every moment. I am beginning anew.

Archive for the tag “Mental disorder”

A Broken System

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. One in seventeen Americans suffers from a severe mental illness.

As of 2012, among veterans, there are more suicide deaths among active duty soldiers than combat deaths. According to a new report issues by the Department of Veterans Affairs, every 65 minutes a military veteran commits suicide. Thirty one percent of these were committed by veterans under the age of 50. (Suicide Rate Among Military Jumps)

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A veteran protests the veteran suicide rate, which just jumped from 18 to 22 a day

Today, I went to a doctor’s appointment. This appointment was made for me by the powers that be over a month and a half ago, after many phone calls and much grief, so I could get established with a new psychiatrist since Erik and I moved back to New Mexico. I arrived at the appointment today to find out that the doctor was a psychologist (therapy) and not a psychiatrist (medication). I already have a counselor. I need my medications managed.

When a person is in a mental health crisis and tries to get help, they frequently get put on hold, stuck in a waiting room, or otherwise thrown into a holding pattern. In case it’s not obvious, a holding pattern is exactly the opposite of what a person in crisis needs.

I am sure that I am preaching to the choir here, so I won’t go on much more. But just in case my point isn’t clear yet, our mental health care system is even worse off than our medical care system. If behavioral health is covered (and this is a big if), it takes weeks, if not months to receive proper care. Once care is received, the medications are frequently not covered by insurance companies, and we are not talking about inexpensive meds. And then there is the continued management necessary to properly care for people with mental health issues, counseling, regular medical check-ups and check-ins. Sometimes this includes blood tests and other exams. If all of this is not completed on a regular schedule, patients get thrown off their schedule’s of therapy and medication, symptoms worsen and this is where we start to lose people. They drop out of care, fed up with a system that doesn’t work, or they give up on life all together.

Our veterans, our mentally ill, need our help. Visit Change.org to sign a petition that urges lawmakers to improve mental health care. 

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As people who have direct, lived experience with mental illness and addiction, as family members caring for our loved ones with these illnesses, as counselors and health care workers, and as leaders of behavioral health programs, we all call on you, the leaders of our Nation, to begin with us a road to recovery from the Newtown Tragedy.

Visit the new Veterans Crisis Line website to see how you can help save our veterans once they’ve left the battle field.

One in Four

The other day, a good friend of mine mentioned that her husband reads my blog, enjoys it, and even identifies with it. He also said that no one will post comments or answers to my questions, because no one wants to admit that they have struggled with mental illness.

I understand. I didn’t ask for help until I was in college. I didn’t want to admit that I felt like my life wasn’t worth living, even though I was otherwise healthy, well-fed, warm, and had people who loved me. We all hide our sadness or fear or anger, because somewhere along the way we learned that it makes us less than. But the truth is, something we all share cannot divide us, no matter how hard we try.

Mental health issues have been all over the public sphere in the last couple of years with the prevalence of gun violence. But when we talk about gun violence, we are talking about the 1 in 17 adults that suffer from a severe and often psychotic form of mental illness. This statistic is scary enough and certainly significant and important, but we must also consider the 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 that suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. (NIMH)


One in four people have a diagnosable mental health illness: mild depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. When we talk about mental health, we are not simply talking about those that suffer from more severe forms like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and the like. We are talking about people who get sad in the winter, who shake when they talk in front of people, those who struggle to manage their anger, anyone addicted to anything (alcohol, video games, exercise, food), and the list goes on. “Mental Illness” is a label in and of itself that is helping keep this issue in the dark.

So let’s stop talking about “mental illness”, “depression”, “anxiety.” And let’s start talking about the problems we all face, about what we have in common. One in four adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, but we all have been sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, deeply disappointed, among other things.

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If you have a diagnosis and you want to talk about it, that’s fantastic. Join me! I have diagnosed mood, personality, and anxiety disorders. But what does that really mean? Sometimes I get sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, and disappointed. This is what we have in common. This is what really matters.

Getting mental health issues out into the open isn’t about labels and distinctions. I know that depression and sadness, nervousness and anxiety, are not the same thing, but it is important that we remove the stigma from mental suffering. I have never met a person who hasn’t suffered internally in some way. So why are we so afraid?

If you know someone who has felt any of these things, please share, comment, or like this post on facebook. Let’s see how connected we are.

Unholy Ghost

A couple of weeks ago, my counselor gave me an assignment. He asked me to describe my sadness, in writing. For those of you who have experience with depression, you know that at times when you are out of the depression, it can be hard to remember exactly what it felt like or to put it in words. I believe he was looking for some quantification of my depression, in order to better understand how it is for me; because truly, it is different for everyone.
As I sat down to complete this assignment, I was reminded of the hours I spent in my youth compiling endless lists of quotes on depression from other writers. There is a book called  Unholy Ghost: writers on depression that I have read and re-read since I was a teenager. In the beginning, every time I read it, I would highlight passages in a different color and there is a key inside the front cover matching the color with the number of readings. After a while though, I ran out of colors and it is anyone’s guess when the passages were highlighted.
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My goal, though, in marking various passages was to find one, finally, that might make what I was feeling clear to my family, that might bring some awareness and clarity. I did not trust my own words to be adequate; I did not think that my family would believe the depths of the pain I felt if it came from my own pen. I would re-type passage after passage, creating a catalog of others’ pain. But I never could gather the courage to actually hand it to anyone in my family. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never been asked to describe the sadness. I had long since given up hope of ever being asked.

So I put this to you: Ask someone. If there is someone in your life you know struggles with mental illness, ask them what it’s like and be ready for the answer. Because it’s not pretty or romantic; it’s not melancholy or artistic. And no matter what you know about them, no matter how simple, easy, or uncomplicated their life may seem, do not judge them. Simply listen. And maybe, just maybe, if the person is ready, describing it might help just a little. Or perhaps, if he or she isn’t ready, they will know that if they ever do want to talk about it, you’ll be there ready to listen.


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A 7-year old caucasian boy shows how he sees himself and family in very dark colors. He suffers from anxious depression, a disorder with which his mother also suffers. From the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics Click on the picture for a link to the article.

Taboo

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – suffer from mental illness in any given year. It also states that only one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Mental Illness: Facts and Numbers

In 400 B.C. mentally ill people were treated scientifically and taken care of at home by their families. The Middle Ages brought the belief in demons as the logical explanation for mental abnormality. Exorcism was the course of treatment.

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Over the next 1500 years, people with mental illness were progressively shunted into the dark, dropped in mental institutions, mistreated, and ignored by society. In the last 100 years, mentally ill people have taken up the ranks of the homeless and imprisoned, while the mental institutions are overrun, overworked, and understaffed. Timeline: Treatments for Mental Illness

Beyond the statistics and realities of what we do with people who suffer from mental illness, there is the underlying issue of how we react to mental illness in our society. For hundreds of years we have rejected what is different from us, what we do not understand: different races, cultures, religions, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Instead of focusing on our similarities, we have divided each other based on any differences we see, assume, or even simply suspect.

My husband and I just recently bought a house in a new neighborhood. My husband goes out to visit with anyone he sees. I avoid my neighbors because I have a hard time imagining what we could possibly have in common. I am afraid of rejection, of not being understand, of finding no common ground. I limit my chances for making new friends, new connections, learning new things by cutting myself off from these potential relationships.

Even though I know what I’m missing out on, I still keep to myself because opening up to new people is too risky. There are many people who don’t understand or know what to say when I tell them that I have a mental illness. Mental Illness is misunderstood because it is taboo and as a result remains shrouded in confusion, misinformation, and missing facts.

I have helped perpetuate the problem by remaining silent. Fear is always what stops us from revealing ourselves. Well, I will speak through my fear because opening up about myself is the only tool I have to help overcome the mental illness taboo.

Listen up. I will not hide in the darkness any more.

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