Mental Illness

The Clothespin Theory

 

clothespin-nose-shutterstock

Photo by Cheryl Casey

(This post was written last month but not published.  Of course, it is still just as relevant…)

 

Many people have shared a Facebook post this weekend attributed to Morgan Freeman, encouraging us to forget the name of the person who attacked the school in Connecticut. His last paragraph says, “You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.”

While I agree with most of the statement, I don’t like that it seems to be encouraging us to forget this troubled young person and the terrible effects of mental illness on his life, his family, the lives of those he killed, their families, everyone else involved in the aftermath, and all of us whose hearts break for every life lost. 

It’s a lot like having a horrible odor in your house and just putting a clothespin on your nose instead of searching for the source of the smell. The smell won’t go away because you put a clothespin on your nose, right?  You’ll go about your way for a little while, but eventually you’re going to notice it again. And seriously, how many of us would admit out loud to actual people that we believe ignoring a problem will make it go away? Anyone? <crickets chirping…>

Writing off Adam Lanza or Jacob Tyler Roberts as simply “evil”, or as non-persons, or as jerks who “just wanted to be famous”, is an easy, comfortable way to keep from dealing with the issue of mental illness.  It’s like smelling that awful smell I mentioned before and saying to yourself, “Oh, it’s probably just a dead rat in the cupboard under the sink. If I don’t look at it or think about it, everything will be fine.” Raise your hand if this is how YOU would handle a dead rat in your kitchen. Anyone? Yeah.

Thinking about a dead rat problem can make people feel uncomfortable. It would be much easier to pretend it doesn’t exist.  But, you have to get out the shovel and the bucket and take care of it, because if you leave it the situation won’t improve. It will get stinkier. There will be unpleasant things living in it. Germs will swirl around your home. Your family could be adversely affected.

Now, perhaps comparing mental illness to a dead rat isn’t the BEST analogy in general (although those of us who experience mental illness pretty much think it stinks).  The point is, if something affects our lives or the lives of our families, we don’t usually ignore it.

We do something about it. <Gets rubber gloves and bucket>.

We ask for or encourage others to help. <”Honey, I’ll give you a big smooch if you remove this dead rat! I’ll even hold the bucket if you bring me one of those respirator thingies so I don’t have to smell it!”>

We feel free to voice our feelings and opinions. <”Ohmygosh there was a humongous dead rat in my kitchen cupboard and it smelled and I had to LOOK at it and it was yucky and it was THERE and I had to deal with it! Dead rats are hard to deal with!”>

We inform ourselves and then gladly inform and help others.  <”Yeah, so you get your rubber gloves and a bucket, and maybe a shovel, but if it’s not too far gone you can just pick it up by the tail and put it into the bucket, but be super careful, and be sure not to LOOK at it too much because it will be really gross! Here’s a link to an informative and helpful website about stinky dead thing removal!  You can get through this!”>

So, let’s start taking mental illness as seriously as we would a dead rat in our cupboard, or, say, any other chronic-but- treatable-with-various-methods illness like asthma; or any other scary-and-possibly-life-threatening illness like breast cancer.  Let’s encourage medical professionals to do more research to find out how to better treat and prevent mental illness.  Let’s not leave the mentally ill and their families ashamed, afraid, and alone, no matter what they’ve done.  Instead of telling the media to close the cupboard and leave the kitchen, let’s ask that they dispense accurate information about mental illness so we can better help people before illness ruins their lives and takes others down with them.  And let’s take the responsibility to educate ourselves with accurate information. 

And by “accurate”, I mean “accurate”. NOT myths, NOT things like “Everyone with any kind of mental illness is bad and stupid and they all want to shoot people or jump out of a moving car on the freeway because they think they’re Jesus, and they will bite me if I’m kind to them” and NOT “There’s nothing wrong with that kid that a lot more discipline wouldn’t cure – those parents just need to wise up.” and NOT “There’s no such thing as mental illness, those people just need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and figure it out because they’re just lazy and they could do it if they tried.”  These ideas are as valid as “Dead rats go into your cupboard to die on purpose because they’re mean and they know it will annoy you.”

Remember that illness can affect anyone, in any neighborhood, in any income bracket, at any age.  Remember that dealing with a problem is a lot smarter than going around with clothespins on our noses.  “There, but for the grace of God, goes (Your Name Here).

 

 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness website is a great place to start learning more.

 

 

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Categories: Mental Illness, Observations | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why Are the Mentally Ill Expected to Advocate for Themselves?

Consider this: Someone you love very much is driving down the road on a routine errand.  It has gradually gotten darker outside.  Suddenly, a truck driving without headlights veers across the road and smashes into your loved one’s car.  Your loved one couldn’t see it coming, and could do nothing to prevent the crash.  The truck speeds away into the night.  Your loved one, while seriously injured, manages to find the cell phone and press the speed dial.  You barely hear that your loved one has been in an accident and the location of the crash.  You drive to the scene and see your loved one trapped in a crumpled automobile, both legs fractured, blood gushing from a large wound where his or her head cracked the windshield.  Your loved one is confused and doesn’t know what happened.  Your loved one sees you and, expecting a loving response, cries “There’s something wrong!  I’m bleeding!  I can’t feel my legs!  I can’t move!  It hurts!  Please, please help me!” What do you do? Do you stand and stare at your loved one while he or she sobs uncontrollably and begs for your help? Do you walk up to your loved one and, instead of calling 911 or rushing to comfort, say to him or her, “You need to think more positively.  Why are you acting this way?  There’s no reason for you to be so upset!” Do you then scold your loved one, insisting that it is his or her responsibility to figure out what’s wrong and fix it? Do you expect your loved one to extricate him- or herself from the situation and drag him- or herself to the hospital while in excruciating pain, before he or she bleeds to death? When your loved one continues to plead for your help, do you ignore the cries, turn away, and leave your loved one in agony and feeling rejected and unloved? OF COURSE NOT!! When you hear your loved one’s cries, you drive as fast as you can to reach him or her, calling 911 on the way, giving them the exact location of your loved one’s car, demanding that the paramedics hurry!  When you get to your loved one and you hear his or her sobs and cries for help, your heart breaks – you rush to the wrecked vehicle to hold your loved one and try to comfort him or her.  You pray out loud; and assure him or her that you will always be there and that you will do everything you can to help.  You cry with your loved one because it hurts you to see him or her in so much pain.  When the paramedics arrive, you explain to them what your loved one has told you and make sure they are doing what needs to be done.  You ride in the ambulance as it careens toward the hospital, because you can’t stand to leave your loved one’s side for even a moment while he or she is going through this ordeal.  If your loved one lashes out at you or behaves strangely, you aren’t offended because you understand that he or she is confused and in pain.  You stay at your loved one’s side in the hospital and pay attention to every detail of the doctor’s words and your loved one’s treatment.  If your loved one isn’t healing, you insist that the doctor do something about it.  You don’t mind watching over your loved one’s care, because you know he or she isn’t capable of doing it alone.  Your know your loved one needs help. Now consider this: Someone you love very much is moving along is his or her daily life routine when things gradually begin getting darker.  Suddenly one day, your loved one crashes.  Your loved one couldn’t see it coming, and could do nothing to prevent the crash.  He or she begs for your help.  You come to talk and see your loved one broken, bewildered, and in pain.  Your loved one doesn’t know what is happening.  He or she, expecting a loving response, cries “There’s something wrong!  It hurts!  I can’t control my life!  I can’t move!  Please, please help me!” What do you do? Do you stand and stare at your loved one while he or she sobs uncontrollably and begs for your help? Do you walk up to your loved one and, instead of rushing to comfort, say to him or her, “You need to think more positively.  Why are you acting this way?  There’s no reason for you to be so upset!” Do you then scold your loved one, insisting that it is his or her responsibility to figure out what’s wrong and fix it? Do you expect your loved one to extricate him- or herself from the situation and find his or her own help, before his or her health and life completely deteriorates? When your loved one continues to plead for your help, do you ignore the cries, turn away, and leave your loved one in agony and feeling rejected and unloved? Consider this: Why is someone with a mental illness not as worthy of attention as someone with a physical illness or injury?  Why do we tell someone having mental problems to “buck up,” “figure it out,” or “stop behaving that way”? Would we tell someone with severe physical injuries that they are weak because they need medication or other medical treatment?   Would we blame and berate them for not making themselves better? Why, then, are the mentally ill expected to advocate for themselves?

© 2009 Noelle Marier

Categories: Life, Mental Illness, Observations, Rant | 2 Comments

Mental Illness and Medication

I was just reading the Bipolar Disorder blog on “About.com”  and found an article called “Christianity vs. Psychology – Opposing Views?”   It addresses from a biblical point of view the idea that Christians shouldn’t take medication or get treatment for mental illness.

Many people believe that those with mental illness are to blame for the disease that plagues their lives.  These people would show compassion to someone with a birth defect or cancer, or go out of their way to encourage and help a person with any other chronic illness, but would condemn a person suffering from depression or bipolar disorder for taking medication that allows them to function comfortably and effectively.

Diabetics need to take medicine to stay alive and healthy.  Would these people who say taking medication for mental health is wrong also deny medication to a diabetic, or refuse to take someone with a broken leg to a hospital for treatment, or tell a cancer patient he can’t have chemotherapy?  It is cruel to blame the mentally ill for their disease, just as it would be ludicrous to blame a child with cerebral palsy for his disease. People with mental illness should be shown the same concern that one would show to anyone with a chronic physical disease.

The article is at http://bipolar.about.com/od/religion/a/christian_views.htm.

This post is a lead-in to my next post.

Categories: Life, Mental Illness, Observations | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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