Talking About Mental Illness – Society Needs to do Better

Content Warning: Suicide and suicide thoughts.

Whenever a celebrity or well-known person commits suicide, suicide hotline information is plastered all over social media. 

Feeling depressed? Reach out! Call this number!

Know someone showing these signs? Reach out!

I am not disparaging the need for these types of hotlines.  Many people can find help through them. In 2015, John Draper (PhD, Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Member, SPRC Steering Committee) reported that in the ten years since the Lifeline began, their centers have answered more than five million calls from people in suicidal or emotional crisis.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 or Chat

En Español – Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio – 1-888-628-9454

For Deaf & Hard of Hearing  1-800-799-4889

The problem is, how many people didn’t or won’t call? How many children and adults don’t call and continued to suffer in silence, because the people they did reach out to dismissed them or they didn’t feel safe enough to reach out at all? How many kept silent, because they didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to burden their families, or because they were raised not to say anything at all?

According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Yes, as young as 10 years old. Suicide is considered the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.  Researchers also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

According to The State of Mental Health in America, 1 in 5 Adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA:

“Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”

“Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

In Spokane County, Washington State, the youth suicide rate more than doubled from 2013 to 2016. It went from 4.3 per 100,000 people 24 and younger to 10.7, Washington State Department of Health data show.  It was reported that nearly 20 percent of Spokane County’s eighth, 10th or 12th graders have seriously considered suicide, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. In 2016, the last year data was publicly available, 15 percent reported that they made a plan to do so. Chris Moore, a student services coordinator with Spokane Public Schools, says suicide attempts are spiking as well, even among kids in elementary school. “We’ve seen a drastic increase with the number of attempts,” Moore says. “It’s a public health crisis. It really is.

For more information – As youth suicide rates surge in Spokane, school officials search for answers

My family has a long history with mental illness on both sides. Then there is my ex-husband’s family.  Various forms of anxiety and depression, PTSD, Bipolar, alcoholism (which is considered a mental illness according to the AMA and the APA – it’s all there based on information spanning five generations.  

For more information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics

My sister-in-law, who I will never have the opportunity to meet, violently committed suicide with a gun when she was 21 years old, three weeks after her son was born.  He will never know his mother.  He is now older than she was when she ended her life. His father raised him on his own. 

My brother-in-law has struggled with depression all his life and has been slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. He is in his fifties and he doesn’t expect to outlive his parents. He can’t hold on to a regular job and lives most of the time with his parents and some of the time with his girlfriend. 

My ex-husband has also struggled with depression all his life, but has refused treatment.  His untreated mental illness and his untreated personality disorder ripped our family apart, twice.  He ran from life instead of facing his problems.  He couldn’t deal with his demons, so he pushed his family away and went into isolation with his seven guns and his paranoid ideas.

My ex-husband came from a family who doesn’t talk.  My ex was raised to believe that it was a sign of weakness to talk about your emotions and to ask for help.  Instead, he buried his demons, walled himself up, and went emotionally flat lined to the outside world. The reality is that he can’t handle his emotions, he fears them.  He is emotionally stunted, a 45 year old man emotionally stuck somewhere between a 12 year old boy and a 17 year old teenager.  Our children are actually more emotionally mature than he is.  My sister-in-law killed herself when my ex was only 17 years old and that is where he stopped growing emotionally as a person.     

My son, who is now 15 years old, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was six years old.  He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.  Autism is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  My son was on suicide watch twice when he was 11 years old due to his father’s behavior.  My ex had fallen into a major depressive episode, the worst I had seen him be in. He refused to get help.  He neglected and then abandoned his children resulting in my son developing PTSD.  My son was never suicidal, but he had given up hope in life. He saw no point in life any more.  My son still struggles with depression.  He is on medication and goes to weekly counseling sessions. 

My daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was only eight years old.  She has been on medication ever since. She was diagnosed with Autism two years later at the age of 10.  She is now 17 years old.  She was hospitalized when she was 15 years old due to going into psychosis.  She had been essentially stuck in a depressive state for some time and then had a breakthrough manic state.  The combination sent her into psychosis.  The voices told her she had to hurt herself with a knife and then the voices told her to use fire.  She never did and insisted that she could keep fighting the voices, but we managed to convince her to go to the hospital where she stayed for a week in the youth psychiatric ward.  Three months later a space opened up at a long-term treatment facility for youth.  She went into long-term care as an outpatient for three months.  Her medications were straightened out and a new treatment plan was developed for her to be used by her counselor, occupational therapist, and her speech therapist.

Then there is me.  I was diagnosed with Autism after my children were at the age of 36. 

Depression and mainly anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but no one talked about it.  I didn’t have the words I needed to use growing up to describe why I felt the way I did.  I was told to lighten up, to stop taking things so seriously.  I was yelled at if I cried.  I was conditioned to not show emotions or to ask for help.  I was also conditioned that my needs didn’t matter.  I was on my own and told to take care of my younger sister who was only two years younger than me.  Alone, that was how I felt for so damn long.  No one listened when I tried to reach out, so I stopped reaching out.  I withdrew into myself, which only isolated me more, because my family either didn’t know what to do with me or took it personally that I had withdrawn, so I was ignored.  I was an undiagnosed autistic child with undiagnosed mental health issues. 

I grew up in a toxic home, but I didn’t realize it.  All I knew was something was off, but I never could figure it out.  I was told I was loved, but I felt so alone and I was scared.  I felt silenced.  What I wanted never seemed to matter.  I was conditioned to comply.  I had no idea how to say “no” or how to advocate for myself.  I was to comply with the wishes of others and rules were rules.

I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse until I was required to take a class for my professional certification as a teacher.  Even then, my mind just couldn’t accept that I had come from an abusive home life.  No, it couldn’t be.  There were other reasons for the behavior, always an excuse, excuses I had heard as a child growing up, excuses I was taught to just accept without question.     

By the time I took this class, I was already married and a parent.  I also hadn’t realized that I had married into an emotionally abusive marriage.  I married what I knew.

For more information – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

About 15 years ago, I went through a horrible medical trauma that was made worse by my family’s behavior.  More information can be found here – The Volcano is Awake. There was a time that I wanted to die so the pain would end, but I was never suicidal. I reached out for help so many times, but I was told get over it, bury it, move on.  I would reach out and get a cold shoulder or a back turned to me.  I had to get myself through that dark time of my life on my own and I would never wish that torture on anyone.  What got me through was that I couldn’t leave my children without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and something inside me kept saying that there was no one else to take care of them.  It was my responsibility as a mother that pulled me out and in the process “mama bear” emerged.  I had reached my breaking point, but never fully broke.   I became stronger, but in the process of working my way out of the darkness, I learned I had developed Complex – PTSD.  

Reach outWhen my marriage ended, I once again reached out for help, but was met with the same cold shoulders and told to move on, get over it, stuff it away. As with my medical trauma, I was not allowed to grieve in the way and for the length that I needed to.  I had become an inconvenience, a burden, again.  Once again I found myself alone with two children, teenagers now, and I had to get through the emotional pain of having my family ripped apart, but this time I was going to do things on my terms.  By this time I had learned about self-advocacy and self-determination.  I drew the line and held those boundaries. 

I reached out to others outside my family.  It took time, but I eventually developed a support network that is primarily online.  I am in a better place now, but my children and I are still grieving.  We are getting there, though.  We are much better than where we were a few years ago, but the depression is still there.  It has never fully gone away and I don’t know if it ever will. 

I have tried to create an environment where my children can feel safe talking about how they feel. I want them to feel that there is someone who will listen to them, who feels their voice is important, and who will never give them a cold shoulder and tell them to get over it and move on.  I remind them often that they each have a whole care team rooting for them.  I want them to know they are not alone.   

There is still too much stigma around mental illness. In 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma, Laura Greenstein states, “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.” 

As a society, we need to do better.  We can’t just post about a suicide or crisis hotlines only during a time when a celebrity commits suicide.  We can’t just think posting these hotline numbers are enough. 

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

How can we eliminate stigma?

People tend to hold negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.

 “The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media.” – Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help. People need to feel safe talking about mental illness, so here I am talking about mental illness in a public forum.  I do not feel shame.  I do not feel embarrassed. I am not a burden. I refuse to be silenced.  I want people to know that they are not alone. End the stigma!!

Educate Yourself and Others – Learn More

“Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts can help you educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.” – NAMI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s