Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mental Illness Comes out of the Closet

Is it me, or is there more conversation going on about mental illness right now than we often see in the news and in blogs? As the child of a mentally ill parent, I find my attention is always drawn to the subject. But several high profile/high readership sources seem to be raising awareness of not only mental illness, but the stigmas surrounding it, and for that I am most supportive and grateful

The New York Times is taking the bold step of publishing a series called "Lives Restored", specifically about people coping with life and mental illness. When I read this piece in the New York Times about Marsha Linehan, a therapist and innovator in the treatment of extremely suicidal patients , she herself a sufferer of bi-polar illness, it gave me hope that mental illness might be beginning to come out of the closet.

When a friend called late at night with the horrifying news about her husband's mental illness and the nightmarish course their lives are now taking, I wished for her sake that stigma did not have to be one of the burdens she was now facing. It is hard enough to watch someone you know turn into someone you don't even recognize. Not to be able to talk openly about it through feelings of embarrassment and shame only makes it harder, more isolating and frightening.

A short TED talk highlighting the difficulties of suicide survivors - yes, those who attempt suicide and remain living - shed more light on the isolation of the severely ill. Imagine the triple whammy of being so tortured that you attempt suicide, a mixture of elation/despair/embarrassment that you failed, and then the awkwardness caused by no one knowing what to do with you, say to you.

Why write about this? Why today? Because it needs to be said, because closeting of who any of us are can only do harm, because those of us with the ability to think rationally often try to apply that same rationality to mental illness, and fail those in need the most.

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