If you have been reading my posts lately (especially on Tuesdays), you may know of my online and offline crusade to raise our culture’s consciousness about the prevalent role of Mental Health Awareness in our communities locally, nationally, and internationally, With the latest developments from the Santa Barbara massacre at the hands of Elliot Barber, the Sandy Hook killings, and the countless number of untold stories in our neighborhoods, there has been too many unnecessary deaths to ignore anymore.
We can no longer assume that mental health is not a factor in any of these news stories – it has a profound effect on the murder suspect and unfortunately, the victims. But the solution to this epidemic is much more complicated than simply medicating the patient. Don’t get me wrong, stabilizing destructive thoughts and intentions in a person who suffers from mental illness through medication is very important. However, that is NOT the ONLY answer to this problem. That’s the cheap, Cliff Notes-version response to a very complicated issue in our society.
In my opinion, the first thing that will help us all tackle this issue is removing the cultural stigma that mental illness has had in our neighborhoods, family and social circles, and cities around the world. That can only happen if we all are EDUCATED in what mental illness REALLY is. Calling someone “crazy” is just as insulting as any racial/sexist /ageist slur can be because it generalizes an entire group of people. Are all African-Americans “lazy”? Are all immigrants “thieves”? Are all women “bitches”? Are all young people “entitled”? I doubt that considerably.
Mental illness has a varied spectrum, covering multiple conditions and symptoms. There’s depression, postpartum depression, seasonal depression, bipolar disorder, bipolar II, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder and so many more. Each condition has its own set of symptoms. For instance, depression equates to extreme bouts of sadness, fatigue, and varying levels of suicidal thoughts. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by high energy “manic” episodes with hypersensitivity and anger and low energy symptoms similar to depression. A person who suffers from schizophrenia has varied intensity of voices/hallucinations telling him/her to do things that are not constructive. There are organizations like NAMI and Mental Health America out there who have the latest research, diagnosis checklists, support groups and more. We just need to WANT to find this information.
Once you know what each condition looks like by being more informed, you can be the empathetic advocate for that person to get the help he/she needs. And it’s more than just taking a pill; it’s involving therapy, support groups as well as a proper dosage of medication to lessen the condition’s symptoms. You can be the loving friend/family member/girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who can remove the social insecurity from that sufferer by just listening. Are you REALLY listening to your child/friend/spouse? How do you know?
The reason why sufferers lie about the severity of their illness is because they fear being labeled as “crazy” and becoming a social outcast within their families and communities. Who wants to be labeled a freak of Nature, “that weird kid,” at ANY age, much less in your formative years of development in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood?! I believe that 22-year-old University of California student Elliot Barber faced that same fear. I am not condoning his course of action but I do know that there were warning signs that were either ignored or overlooked by his parents, mental health professionals and the police department.
So I ask, “how are we as individuals embracing our neighbors and family who just happen to suffer from a mental illness?” The answer will predict the future of our disenfranchised people in our culture and ultimately, our own future as the human race.