Some Unkind Truths About Mental Illness

Mental illness rarely comes in the package we expect. Most of us anticipate disheveled hair and an aura of the strange. An odd lady at the top of the hill with the house full of cats. One that wears the same pale blue cardigan every day. Mutters to herself to and from the corner store. We envision a man that sits outside of the parking garage with the daily greeting, God bless you, brother. Spare some change for an old man? Were looking for the deranged and potentially dangerous guy with that far off look in his eyes and a long beard that still carries crumbs from his lunch. And, in our minds, he's been labeled a schizophrenic and he yells at the staff in the asylum that just want to do give him his medicine. Sometimes, he throws feces on the walls. Sometimes, he thinks about hurting people.

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We find comfort in this image and this story. We tell ourselves, This is what mental illness looks like.This is how we know when someone is crazy. It makes us feel safe, because we don't have to acknowledge the reality: that an estimated 57 million adults in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. That's 1 in 4. One quarter of our adult population, one quarter of our workforce is suffering some sort of mental anguish, and most of them are doing so silently. The unkind truth is that we are scared to face ourselves and acknowledge that the people we love and know are hurting and can be in danger. We want to tell our coworkers and children and ourselves to suck it up, because the world is unkind and nobody cares about your suffering. We want to tell them to get over it.

I have news for you, friends. Our colleagues, family members, and acquaintances are not getting over it. Since 2009, the leading cause of death by injury has been suicide. That's more deaths per year than both homicide and fatal car accidents. We've developed a culture that values the steely reserve of the hero capable of beating all the odds, and as a result, we perpetuate a farce that has been embedded into the fabric of our society. We are not heroes. We are brave and courageous and daring, but at the end of the day, we are human. Humans that all have the aims of feeding and protecting our families, engaging in meaningful and valuable work, and experiencing genuine love.

The task of living will undoubtedly develop insecurities, fear, and anxiety; simply put, stress that we cannot escape. While some level of stress is inevitable, we have to change the culture that tells us seeking help for the unmanageable kind is a sign of weakness. This message only encourages us to seek help in a crisis, and that's often too late. Culturally, a paradigm shift is long over due, and we have to develop an expectation that all people will have better access to real solutions. As a society, we have to begin the difficult intellectual work that causes us to challenge our assumptions and work toward meaningful and lasting change. Gritting our teeth and sucking it up just aren't enough anymore. If we're honest with ourselves, it probably never was.

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Posted in Mental Health Post Date 10/03/2022






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