Mental Illness - stigma

I don't want to sound like I think I'm an expert, I'm not.  In my opinion, mental illness is so complex, misunderstood and misrepresented.  The only thing I feel I can do is speak from my experience.  Until I became personally affected by someone diagnosed with a mental illness and sought out better sources of information, the only exposure I had was the portrayal of stories offered as entertainment and sensational news.

I am sharing my opinion and hopes as someone who has witnessed a loved one slip quickly into an altered state with no previous indicators of illness, no use of alcohol or drugs of any sort. Subsequently, I've taken and taught a class for family members of people with mental illnesses and seen the impact and gaps in options we face when attempting to do the best thing by our loved ones and the best thing for society as a whole (necessary consideration in some but not all cases).  I'd say in the case of my loved one, all of the best possible decisions and responsibilities were met without shame and with direct problem solving and long term management like you'd hope for in any serious illness.  This is a rare reaction as far as I can tell.  I believe that the elimination of stigma around mental illness would empower individuals to take swift, accurate and supported approach to their treatment and recovery process.

I hope that courageous loved ones of and those with mental illness participate in the legislation conversations about mental health issues.  (I'm firing up my courage with this post).  From my experience, I have to say that some of our rights we fight so hard to maintain are the same ones that create a situation where in some cases loved ones are forced to harbor dangerous relatives because no hospital or jail can treat them unless a tragedy has already occurred.  Currently, when appropriate action cannot take place, it is because the rights are in the hands of the untreated individual whose reality is markedly different from ours.  Regarding policy around mental health the most knowledgeable and understanding of the impact on legislation are the ones most at risk of ridicule when misinformation and stigma is the norm.  (I'd like your support in this as I find a way to stand up politically)

What can we as individuals do right now to work towards changing this scenario? 
Support the mentally ill and their relatives.  Open our hearts and minds that in rare cases daily tragic realities may be happening to people we pass every day.  They may never ask us to be particularly patient since they've been up all night diffusing the situation of a violent loved one who refuses a diagnosis or won't take their medication.

Don't judge or increase the stigma that keeps individuals from seeking treatment.  Mental illness, like all other physical illnesses does not discriminate, it could suddenly find you or one of your dearest loved ones, it is not something we can choose, or prevent, or deserve.  Just like no one deserves Cancer, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's.  When someone confides in you about most other serious illnesses, we make casseroles, we pray, and rally around them.  When a family is in crisis because the illness effects their loved one's brain, society has so much shame around it that we choose to hide, we bear it alone, we search desperately for information, options and resources while maintaining our workloads and responsibilities and keeping up appearances like our world did not just turn upside down.

If someone you love and/or know shares their diagnosis with you, this is a big step for them.  Don't respond in fear, please respond in love and receive that knowledge as a gift, a sign of great respect and trust.  It is an opportunity for you to support them as well as help fight the stigma that stifles individual and societal awareness, acceptance, and attention/funding in medical research.  

There are those around us every day that are in various degrees of suffering from the symptoms of mood disorders (mania and depression), PTSD, OCD, and schizophrenia.  They need not be ashamed to get the help they need.

Do the next right thing that materializes more love and understanding in our daily lives with our family, our friends, our co-workers, fellow drivers, the workers that sell us the products we buy, the service providers that offer us ease and convenience, the crossing guards who know more about this spreading of love than most others I know, as well as the teachers whose role in our future is more than can be described in words.

Love yourself, love your neighbor, and look at how the rights we fight for may effect a very different reality than we can understand unless we put ourselves in each other’s shoes, even when it is extremely uncomfortable.

The best thing you can do for a loved one with mental illness is to be educated by people with personal experience and unbelievably informative curriculum written by medical professionals with family experience. 

If you have a need for resources and/or a passion about this, please join a group of remarkable individuals and their advocates. NAMI  Metropolitan Houston supports and educates individuals and their family members and together participates in legislative activities.  I urge you to visit and find how you can participate in positive change.

Grace in, peace out,