The Club 29 Thursday morning breakfast meeting had a month long focus on mental health issues in January. There were presentations about nonprofits that are providing programs and services that are helping to improve lives and outcomes, a view from the justice system on how untreated individuals are impacting it, and finally a family perspective on how challenging it can be to have a family member with mental illness.
The programs caused me to think of the people in my life who are affected by mental illness. I had a family member who was hospitalized at the Griffin Memorial Hospital, was given electroshock treatments, and was finally able to achieve a stable life with ongoing medication.
Someone I knew slightly in high school and I re-connected with in college attempted suicide. When I was home from college or work, I would occasionally see her. She had difficulty finding employment that she could maintain and hadn’t seemed to form new emotional connections with anyone. When I heard that she had committed suicide, I wasn’t surprised but I was saddened.
I have a close friend from junior high school who was diagnosed with clinical depression after reaching adulthood. She sought treatment with a psychologist and medication. After a few years of this dual approach, she was able to resume her life without ongoing medication or a therapist. She has a strong marriage, two dogs she adores, and a happy life.
A colleague of mine had a breakdown in her fifties which resulted in her inability to work and withdrawal from friends. I don’t know if she has been able to re-establish a satisfying life because of her isolation. I just learned that her son has died due to unknown causes. I wonder how such a loss will affect her and hope that her support network helps even though I am no longer a part of it.
I’m sure those of you who are reading this have similar stories if not the personal experience of mental illness. David Prater, one of our presenters, asked what do people with mental illness look like. They look like us.
The cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he are us.” We know and we may be people who have some form of mental illness. There are treatments that work but it can be a chronic condition that requires daily medication and a life that can be limited by the illness just as those with diabetes or asthma or multiple sclerosis have to maintain a regimen to stay healthy.
It is those individuals whose mental illness is untreated that are the most at risk and die far too young. The sense of shame that can accompany our feelings about a diagnosis of mental illness is a barrier to seeking treatment and support for the individual and the family. Changes in perceptions about mental illness can result in better policies by society and government that will increase individual recovery and lower costs.