Monday, August 29, 2011

So, what's the Big Deal with mental illness?

it is the main theme running thru Silence & Noise, and while discussion of mental illness seems to be more prevalent in our society than in the past, the negative stigma has not gone away.  yes, there are tv and film characters who are portrayed as "depressed" or to suffer from some sort of mental disorder.  yes, your best friend might feel perfectly ok working, "i'm just feeling depressed today" into the conversation, and maybe you hear the occasional, "he must be bipolar" from time to time, and it's hard to read a magazine or turn on the television without seeing an advertisement about some new depression medication and all of its glamorous side effects, but what does it all mean?  and does it change anything for those people who are out there actually suffering from a mental illness?

in 2004 it was reported that around 26% of US adults had some sort of mental disorder, that would be like every family of 4 having at least one person living with a mental illness.  at that time that was close to 58 million people.  that statistic was in 2004 and only includes the adult US population with reported illnesses.  i'm not exactly sure what the statistics are now in the US and across the world but i can only assume they are higher.  so where are we now?  while the topic of mental health is discussed more frequently and not as hush-hush as it once was, i'm not sure we really understand it.  the prescription market has certainly taken a hold of the reins, making sure we all know what drugs are available and urging us to get them.  we all know that depression "hurts", and we all know the various side-effects of the prescription commercials and some of us have probably laughed a time or two hearing them listed off, but what does any of that really do for those suffering?  or for the families and friends?  or those who really just have no clue what any of it means?  is it knowledge?  is it information?  no, it's just a quick fix.  "hey you are depressed? take a pill".  "oh, bipolar you say, swallow this".  "hearing voices?, no problem i heard there was something for that".  and now we end up with a lot of people taking medication and ever more people not even understanding the problem to begin with.  this is not to say that medication is bad or that it can't help manage symptoms of some of these disorders, it's more to say that there is a whole lot more going on here than a quick fix pill.  a lot of these medications leave people feeling worse off than they were before, a lot of them are masking symptoms, hiding the real issues, a lot of them are causing major side-effects to the body, and again, it goes back to not really knowing what we are facing here.

still with all the resources and knowledge we have today, mental illness isn't taken seriously.  it's hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who may be dealing with these issues when you aren't really sure what they are, or what it looks like.  how do you even know if someone has a mental illness?  yes, there are the obvious cases, but what about the ones who keep it just below the surface, keep it hidden?  it could be the person standing beside you waiting to get their morning coffee.  would it matter if you knew, would it change anything?  should it?  probably not.  but why is it when we hear someone has been diagnosed with cancer our hearts ache for them, but if we hear someone is bipolar, or depressed, or suffers from anxiety we think,"they need to be stronger", "just toughen up, get thicker skin."  there is no cure for bipolar disorder.  it can be treated and managed to a point, but it is a life changing diagnosis.  i think the more aware we are, the more knowledge we have the better equip we are for handing whatever interaction we may have with mental illnesses, whether in our own personal walk, a friends, a family member, a child.

Silence & Noise focuses on Lily's story, on her battle with mental illness.  it isn't a true story but i believe it deals with truth.  i think Lily could be anyone out there who is battling a mental disorder and i hope her story can help to shed some light on the negative and false stigma's still associated with mental health.

NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is a great place for anyone to start to learn more about mental illness.

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