Why We're Afraid Of Mental Illness

We've all averted our eyes when we happen upon a homeless person. As though the sight is simply too much to bear.

It should be. That homeless person is likely mentally ill. And the mentally ill in our society suffer enough already. They certainly have the right to not just be noticed, but helped.

My husband is a psychiatrist at a state mental hospital. By the time a patient walks goes through that gate with a guard at the entrance, and walks through those doors, they have already fallen through the cracks numerous times. Their families can't figure out how to help them. They've often given up on them. This many times is the last stop on a long journey.

I myself have dealt with serious depression since early childhood. I know what it is to be crippled by anxiety and the feeling of hopelessness. When I started taking the medication I needed as a young adult, I didn't realize the colors in my environment were so bright. I had worn glasses much of my life. But I had not truly "seen" the miraculousness of a bright blue sky or the rich texture of grass. Had I known what to do, I'd have done it a lot sooner.

What can YOU do if you have a loved one or friend that is diagnosed with a mental illness?

1. Be supportive, but firm in your stance that you rely on them to take their prescribed medication. That medication can make all the difference in their suffering. There should be no stigma for taking medication. Instead they should be fully supported in doing so. In this way they are taking responsibility for their behavior and actions. Often these illnesses are genetically predisposed. Don't blame them for something beyond their control.

2. Be pro-active. Take action if you think someone is dangerous. Can last weekend's unfortunate events be more of a reason? Many who knew the suspect in the murderous rampage in Arizona felt he was an unstable individual. He was "creepy" and "kept to himself." We don't like to get involved in such matters. But could this tragedy have been prevented? 

3. Don't be ashamed of them. A medical condition, whether physical or mental, needs to be addressed. A person is less likely to receive the help they need if they know they will be looked at differently. That they will be discriminated against. Show some humanity here. Just because you can't see their pain does not mean they don't feel it.

4. Let your legislator know that you as a citizen want to see mental health better funded. For years less and less money has been allocated for mental illness. We as a society will suffer for it. Be an advocate for change.

5. Be knowledgable. With knowledge comes power. You can help far more if you are knowledgable about your loved one's illness. They might not even realize they are sick. A mental health professional can make that determination.


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