Thursday, August 7, 2008

Still a stigma, very sad really

This article talks about a professional football player here in the U.S. He is suffering from severe depression, another form of mental illness. One of my friend's daughter is a nurse who suffered a lot from post partum depression. She tried everything from nutrition to drugs. I recently had a conversation with her about her decision to take a low dose of Lithium. She says that even her closest friends do not know she is taking this drug. When I asked her why she could not confess this to even her friends, she simply said" I'm embarrassed to admit that I could be mentally ill and not be able to control this without Lithium". We have causes for childhood cancer, breast cancer, MS, and a multitude of all illnesses. This morning in the Denver Post was an article about an individual who had killed several people in a manic rage. I will keep saying that innocent people do not have to keep dying at the hands of someone who is sick. These mentally ill people need and deserve our help and also every victim who is killed by someone who is not-medicated and not able to get the appropriate help for their mental illness. This is an American travesty in my opinion.

Thanks, Liz

Mentally ill still subject to contempt

When an Eagle admitted he suffers from depression, the bashing began.

So how far has America come in taking the shame and stigma out of mental illness? Not very far, at least if the acknowledgment by the Philadelphia Eagles' All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews that he suffers from a mental illness is an indication.

The 335-pound Andrews, who refers to himself as the 'Big Kid,' had not shown up at the Eagles' Lehigh University training camp. No one seemed to know why.

There was talk of a contract holdout. Some suggested Andrews was out of shape. Some of his teammates expressed a lot of irritation that he was not there slogging out exhausting two-a-day practices in the summer heat and humidity, wondering if maybe he just did not want to go through the misery that is an NFL training camp.

Finally Andrews, deeply hurt by all the speculation, broke his silence. He told reporters for The Inquirer and Daily News that he was battling depression.

"I'm willing to admit that I've been going through a very bad time with depression," Andrews said this week in his first public comments about his training camp absence. "I've finally decided to get professional help. It's not something that blossomed up overnight. I'm on medication, trying to get better."

So what was the reaction to Andrews' admission that he has a disabling mental illness keeping him out of training camp?

You would have thought that this giant of a young man had announced that he had stayed out of camp because he was a lazy, overindulged ingrate who just did not happen to feel like playing football right now.

Talk radio in Philadelphia and around the country exploded in anger at the very idea that being sad - the talk-radio interpretation of depression - could keep you out of camp.

There was a fair amount of bashing of mental-health treatment, too, as sports talk hosts dismissed the treatment of anyone with depression as a lot of psychobabble for the rich and the spoiled. One Philadelphia sports talk host wondered why - since all psychiatrists are crazy - anyone would seek treatment from one.

It is not known what Andrews had told his coach, his agent, or the general manager of the team about his illness. But it is possible that, suffering from severe depression, which often means being confined to your house, unable to muster the energy to talk to anyone, much less eat or bathe, that he did not provide many details.

The team was fining the football player tens of thousands of dollars for his absence - a stance presumably they may want to reconsider.

But, the bigger question is: Why is it so hard for us to accept mental illness as being just as disabling and devastating as a physical injury?

Inherent in the nutty reaction to the admission of a football hero that he has a severe mental problem lies the explanation of why we have allowed our system of mental health to fall apart. Mental illness is so humiliating, so embarrassing, that individuals, whether they are in the NFL or on the assembly line, don't want to talk about it.

Families are ashamed when one of their own cannot function because of depression, schizophrenia, addiction or psychosis. The media simply reinforce the shame of mental illness with headlines that scream of nut houses, kooks and looney-bins when a celebrity heads off for mental-health treatment.

No one would dream of calling someone with cancer a malingerer or a deadbeat. But, admit that you have a hard time working because you are depressed, cannot leave your house because you are phobic, or find it difficult to show up at holidays with your family because you are not sure you can control your eating disorder, and just watch the insults fly.

Mental illness is for too many Americans a form of moral failure, whereas physical illness is the result of bad genes, bad luck, or bad working environments.

Unless we can get past dismissing mental illness as the product either of a lack of willpower or a lack of character, we don't stand a chance of helping those and their families who must suffer, often in silence, with the shame and stigma.

The United States barely has much of a mental-health system left. Beyond taking a pill, there is not a whole lot available in most parts of the country if you, your parent or your child suffers from depression or any other severely disabling mental illness.

If an NFL star can barely bring himself to publicly admit that he has a mental illness, then what chance do the rest of us have? And if a bruising NFL football player's admission of a mental illness elicits little except scorn, derision and contempt, then what chance do others with mental illness have of getting the help they need?

Crazy as it may seem - not much.


Anonymous said...

This is a great article about a horrible tragedy in our country! I remember the early days of being diagnosed with bi-polar and not knowing anything about it.

The one thing I did know was that I was "crazy" and that scared me to no end. I was locked away and treated horribly in a state facility and then I bumped into a good friend, or so I thought, several weeks later and she literally ran from me. That was over ten years ago, but when I realize that folks still are not compassionate about this debilitating disorder, it has only been an hour.

We live in a great country where we accept just about every immigrant and spend billions on finding cures and better treatments for various cancers, etc. I mention immigrants because they are "foreign" and although they are, we provide many benefits and help to them. That is not true for the "foregin" brain disorder known as bi-polarity. We nevder embraced this disorder as important enough to provide the best all around. The result is that we pushed mentally ill people further into the dark and caused them shame and embarassment.

Our media is greatly responsible for this because they refuse to highlight the people living with bipolarity in a positive way and as a beacon of light to others who suffer. The media dropped to its knees and prayed for the Olympic star who learned he had cancer. Why not drop to their knees and pray for this athelete?

Because the media is not positively educating us about bipolarity, and nobody else is, we see ourselves displayed across the channels when somebody is not well or being treated and explodes.

I guess this country was built around sensationalizing unusual and tragic news so that we rarely pay attention when good things happen in the lives of ordinary people. For example, who really cares that despite having a mental illness, I have started my own business, became a published author, furthered my education since my diagnosis, teach part-time to make a difference in the future for our youth, received an honorary teacher award, and advocate for the needs of individuals with developmental delays? I struggle to afford my meds and I work hard to stay well through life changes such as diet and exercise and finding time daily for peace and meditation.

Will I make the evening news? Of course, not. When we do learn about individuals who lose control, we do not react in society co-hesively to make long-term changes. What I mean is that we still do not have good mental healthcare in this country, drugs remain very costly and unaffordable, education about the mental illness is vague and minimum. Imagine a national campaign promoting bipolar awareness much the same we AIDS/HIV, Diabetes, etc. are promoted.

The shame is a major factor, too. Will we as a country ever get past the shame? As long as we put individuals away rather than seek better ways to help them, no. The education has to start from the professional end and filter down to families who are terrified when the doctor says your child has the same illness that the man who killed 4o people did. Men are taught not to cry so when depression hits and they feel sad, they must also feel even worse because men just don't feel said enough to cry.

Hopefully, with people like you, myself, and others, we will continue to help this country mold into accepting the disorder first and then the people who have it.

Considering that over 2 million adults have bipolarity and the fact that approximately 3.4 million children have early signs of bipolarity (depression, ADHD), America has to step up its approach to treating the brain disorder. Everybody cannot be hidden in a mental facility. Society should not have to needlessly suffer from persons who are diagnosed or undiagnosed with the mental illness. Education must start at the school level so that children will learn to appreciate mental wellness just as they are taught at the school level to avoid drugs, sex. It is not an end-all solution, but a step forward in the right direction.

Once we understand the positive ways of living with the brain disorder, we can help those who have it achieve success and manageability. That will include educating families and friends. That would also include viewers contacting the media and letting them know that beating down on an individual who has a valid health issue will not be tolerated any more than we would allow a reporter to rip apart an individual who has to seek cancer treatment while participating in Olympic games and beyond.

Thank you for allowing me to blog with you.

Agnes ~ Too Wise Not To Praise Him!
Author of: "Cooling Well Water: A Collection of Work By An African-American Bi-Polar Woman." ISBN 0975461206 Winter 2008 Release Pending.

Diane J Standiford said...

Great post and I couldn't agree more. One step forward, three back. Grrr

Liz said...

Thanks for a wonderful post and good luck on your book. Please look at mine as well. I do have a different, but similar viewpoint as I am not bipolar but had a mother who was. I am still saddened every day by the treatment I witnessed that she received. She did not embrace her illness, but since the whole world wanted to sweep her bipolar under the rug, she tried to do that as well. In my opinion, the only way to be an active and contributing member of society is to do what you are doing. Talk, educate, positive role modeling, and showing the world a good example of someone who can and wants to manage their mental illness.

Thanks, Liz

william marino said...

america is horrible in the treatment of mentally ill people.when i decided to tell the world about my illnesses i didnt quite understand the consequences of it. I thought i would be treated just the same as someone who was physicaly ill, but i wasnt. I was looked down on and hated for things that were beyond my control. Its a scary thing when you know that your life and possibly the life of everyone around you depends on the meds they give you and your own self control. that still doesnt give the world around you the right to treat mentally ill people the way do. If there was only some way to make the rest of the world understand what someone who is mentally ill has to go through each day of there life. Maybe they would change the way they think of mentally ill people

Liz said...


First of all I will say that people do not "hate" you for your illnesses. You have done nothing, I am sure to hate. But they usually are afraid of what they do not understand. Don't be so hard on yourself or others. The general population of America have not had first hand experience with a severe mental illness. You are correct in that the only way right now for you to survive in the "real" world is to take your meds, go to therapy, and continue to have a conversation with the people who count about your continuing with bipolar. Know that these were the cards you were dealt and it is your job to learn how to play the game. The one thing I am sure you know is that bipolar is not an illness that you take some medicine and it is cured or it goes away. That is not going to happen. From my experience, though, you do have power over what drugs you do take. If you are taking a drug that you don't like how it makes you feel, ask your doctor to find a different one. Try various drugs to get the one that you like, that works, for you, and that the medical staff approves of as well. Be an active member in a positive way with your treatment and I hope that your family will also stand with you to be positive and active in your success.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Liz and William,

Yes, Liz I will definitely purchase a copy of your book! One of my strong motivations to fight for treatment of management of my mental illness, were my children.

You are an inspiration and I thank you for that, too.

William, I lift you up in prayer because you are destined to live a quality life by the steps you are already taking at your young age. You obviously have a very supportive family and that is very important!

The first few years of my diagnosis were very difficult with finding the right doctor and medication regime, but I took charge of my mental healthcare and found the most compatible doctor and treatment plan. My life began to change in the most positive way.

Stay on top of your mental health and shoot for the stars! There is no time to get side-tracked, ok. Live your life to the fullest as best you can with purpose and you will find peace and happiness.

Agnes ~ Too Wise Not To Praise Him!
Author of: "Cooling Well Water: A Collection of Work By An African-American Bi-Polar Woman." Winter 2008 Release Pending. ISBN 0975461206

william marino said...

thank you for your prayers i will pray for you as well. I do have a very supportive family its probably because of them that i havent ended up in a hospital or worse. everyday is a struggle between listening to one side that isnt so good or listening to the other my family helps me with that. I will hope to one day use my life as an example for others to help them through there struggles is that shooting for the stars for you. Thank you again for what you have said