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June 13th, 2013

The Mental Health Taboo

Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.

Recently, mental health issues have been on many people’s minds, if you believe the media. Recent murders and shootings (too many to count) have brought the issue of mental health and gun control to lawmakers’ attention. Then we have celebrities, like Catherine Zeta-Jones who publicly announced her treatment for bi-polar disorder, trying to jump-start discussions about various mental health issues. The internet is full of personal blogs where people suffering depression publicly deal with the burden to educate their friends and family on their struggles.

This is a Good Thing in my opinion.

I’ve seen mental illness up close. I’ve seen the stigma associated with it by “ordinary” people and doctors too. When I was younger, I saw companies discriminate against people with mental illnesses ranging from depression to ADD / ADHD. If a shrink diagnosed you with one of these problems, it wasn’t a disorder or an illness. It meant that you were a messed up person who couldn’t get your life straight. I watched as people I knew had to fight to get insurance to pay for drugs and therapy because these diagnoses weren’t legitimate. I saw the transition from “it’s all in your head” to a community of mental health professionals springing and telling the medical field at large “this is a real problem that real people suffer from.”

That was barely twenty years ago. The stigma of being diagnosed with mental illness remains.

People don’t want to talk about it. They fear reprisals from their employers. They fear not being able to get the health insurance they need to pay for their treatments. They fear not being able to get (or keep) a job. They fear losing their friends or the support of their families. Worse yet, with the recent spate of violence in the U.S., many non-sufferers connect the idea of mental health issues with mass-murdering freakazoids.

Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Ordinary people suffer from stress, depression, autism spectrum disorder, co-dependency and anger issues, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and too many other disorders to count. Some people suffer mild versions while others suffer extreme versions. I know people who have been touched by every single one of these disorders and none of them are would-be murders. None of them are broken. They are good people, strong people. They are worth something to me and I try to make sure they know that when I can.

Today I called a hotline asking for advice on how to deal with a close friend suffering from a particular issue. I did it because this friend and I had done everything we could do to work the issue out but we are failing on our own. I did it because this friend needs to talk to someone, but won’t because no one else “could possibly understand” what my friend is dealing with. After a brief discussion with the hotline operator, she asked me “Do you feel as if you are in danger?”

My response surprised me, because I didn’t have to think about it. “No. I’m calling for advice now because I don’t want things to get to that point.”

Every word of that statement is true, but it made me think. How many people wait until the last possible moment, when the danger is there and real, to discuss the issue with someone who can help?

Do you wait to discuss depression until the moment that you are popping a whole bottle of pills or slitting your wrists? Do you wait to discuss autism with the doctors until after your child is too old to be helped by potential treatments and social training techniques? Do you wait to discuss your best friend’s addiction until after (s)he’s overdosed and is in the emergency room?

Mental health is just as important as physical health. But while tons of exercise videos and websites tout the benefits of a healthy cardio-training & strength-training regimen, few legitimate websites accurately discuss mental illness. There is no quick fix for mental health problems. There is no video or piece of equipment for which we can plop down a few hundred bucks to make ourselves feel as if we’re resolving the issue. Quite often the fix requires years of therapy and sometimes drugs to counter the chemical imbalances in people’s heads. Too many people hate the idea of taking drugs to fix a problem because of the stigma attached to that image.

Mental illness is a bad term to my way of thinking. It makes it sound as if people are sick and it’s a short step from there to saying people are sick in “they’re totally deranged” tone of voice. There has to be a better term for this, one that describes the problem without robbing the sufferers of what little dignity they feel they have left. I have no suggestions for a better term. All I have is this: Catherine is right. Mental health issues need to be talked about and dealt with. We need to remove the stigma and give those in need better access to the care they need.

And once the stigma goes away, those in need will willingly seek out the care with no fear in their hearts of being condemned for something that has never been their fault.

If you or someone you know is suffering in silence, I urge you to seek counseling before the problem grows beyond control. It just takes a phone call or a conversation with someone you trust. For those who are seeking help, do you have advice on how to take that first step?

Brandie's Stories

The Monster of Mogahnee Bay (reprint ebook, Coming Soon, Musa Publishing)

The Drunkard's Progress (Coming Soon, Musa Publishing)

Slipping Thru the Cracks, Latchkeys #7 (Sept 2012 Crazy 8 Press)

Legend of the Beemen (June 2012 Musa Publishing)

Feast of the Torn (upcoming Buzzy Magazine)

The Hunt for Liberty Jones (Space Tramps, Flying Pen Press)

The Tales We'll Tell Tomorrow (Shadowrun: Street Legends, Catalyst Game Labs)

Silk and Steam (The Ladies of Trade Town, HarpHaven Press)

Love Me Knot (A Lady Katya Story, Storyportals.com)

Another Day, Another Labor (A Career Guide to Your Job in Hell)

Locke-Down (Blue Kingdoms: Mages & Magic)

The Rose Garden (Shadowrun: Corporate Guide-Mitsuhama Fiction, Catalyst Game Labs)

The Monster of Mogahnee Bay (Blue Kingdoms: Shades & Specters)

Just My Luck (Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms)

Two for the Price of One (Transformers: Legends, iBooks Inc.)

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