Don’t fear what you do not understand

By Brook Stallings.
Does anyone know why it is so difficult to talk about mental illness? Even while I was trying to write the first paragraph I had to work to bypass the euphemisms, the “good words” we use to keep reality away from us. I had to think for a minute and consciously discard “mental health issues”, then “mental health problems” before I could write “mental illness.” Why are we so ashamed of an illness that we can’t call it by its correct term? It seems (and I blush to say it) crazy to be afraid to say the words. Is it simply shame? Mental illness isn’t a moral failing, after all. No one chooses mental illness: it just happens to you. People who tell their depressed friends to “just snap out of it” are misinformed, to put it kindly. You can’t fight depression with force of will. Most types of mental illness are believed to be genetic diseases, activated by stress. Also, most types of mental illness are treatable these days. This makes our failure to treat up to two-thirds of those who could benefit from mental health treatment especially tragic. Maybe we can’t talk about mental illness because we are afraid of it. Crazy people are dangerous, right? To themselves, sometimes. To others, usually not. The mentally ill are far more likely to get hurt then to be hurt. Researchers have found that the seriously mentally ill are many times more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. Unfortunately, when someone who hears voices kills someone, it gets enormous media attention. We don’t get to read stories about mentally ill people who turn their lives around, however. We don’t hear about Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon, being hospitalized for severe depression. We also don’t hear about his recovery, and the decades of health and satisfaction he has since enjoyed. Suicide is a huge risk. People with bipolar disorder have a 10 to 20 percent chance of ending their own lives because of their illness. Sufferers of other serious mental illnesses are also at risk. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that 90 percent of of those who die by suicide are mentally ill. I’ve heard people say that suicide is a choice that people should be free to make. Maybe this sounds to some to be enlightened and cool, but it isn’t. It’s very cruel. The psychic pain that is the main symptom of severe depression is intolerable. It has been described as feeling like your best friend just died. There’s no reason for the pain, and you feel it all the time. Worse yet, sufferers feel it will never get better. Hopelessness is a primary symptom of severe depression. If you felt that way, wouldn’t you consider suicide? That’s not a free decision, though, that’s desperation. That’s escape from torture. The hopelessness is false, though. New medicine and therapies mean that most people can be helped and lead good, worthwhile lives, free from the psychic pain. That’s why our inability to talk about the mentally ill matters. If there is so much shame associated with mental illness that we can’t talk about it, people will deny the illness and not seek help. That is what happens much of the time. Shame kills. False shame is associated with depression. When the false shame of depression is reinforced by external shame, the depressed go without treatment. So, people remain in profound pain, and sometimes, they decide to end it. The most frequent time for mental illness to start is in the late teens and early 20s. About half of BCC’s students are in this age group. Keep this number: (866) 427-4747. Just write it down. It’ s the 24-hour crisis line for King County. If you love someone who needs help, tell them to call the crisis line. It’s completely confidential, and they will make sure your friend gets help. If you are miserable all the time, especially if you are afraid you will hurt yourself, call the number. What do you have to lose? You might get your life back. Hey, we need you, OK? Get some help and stick around a while. Please?

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