Turning a Blind Eye…

In a day and age where medical care is so readily available and we are so well educated and informed, it boggles my mind as to how people don’t take the time to keep themselves informed. When it comes to the topic of mental illness it seems to fall into the same taboo category as politics, money, and religion…not appropriate for group discussion and a reigning subject of denial. Why is this? Why in the year 2012 is mental illness still considered something to be ashamed of and ignored? Sweeping something like this under the rug and ignoring the magnitude of the problem at hand only leads to larger and larger problems and eventually irreparable and sometimes catastrophic damage.

In our society when mental illness is discussed people don’t realize that the spectrum is so broad and sometimes easily disguised. Sometimes you can know someone for years and be oblivious and in other cases it can be incredibly obvious. I think people expect mentally ill people to be homeless, walking around drooling with uncombed hair, gnarled teeth, and talking to themselves, but that is just pure ignorance speaking. The problems can go from “small” things (I use quotation marks because no mental health issue is actually small) like chronic depression to huge things like borderline personality disorder, or debilitating paranoid schizophrenia. There are times when people poke fun, especially if you ever open up the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ because there is literally a documented health issue for things you didn’t even know could be a problem, but in fact there is no part of mental health issues that should be joked about.

This is a very personal subject for me and obviously brought to the forefront of my mind as a result of the overwhelmingly tragic Newtown, CT massacre. You might ask why this a personal subject for me and it’s for two reasons; one that involves my immediate family in a sort if distant sense and one that involves my husband’s nuclear family. Both cases are heartbreaking, untreated (as is the case most of the time), and wholly ignored. I have no qualms about discussing the way mental illness has effected both of our families, or the person in my family or the individual it effects in his family, but as it is a sensitive subject for most I will not be able to discuss the specifics of it. In both cases it is completely ignored by the people who should really have been the ones address the problems and that has made it so much worse. As a result the issues that have arisen due to the untreated mental health issues have caused damage that I couldn’t even begin to cover in a reasonable amount of time or a blog entry.

I do not believe in living in a state of denial. When there is a problem, no matter how difficult, it is always easier to face it head on then to deal with the fall-out of all the additional problems that accumulate when you ignore it.  For some reason there is a huge sense of shame that surrounds the topic of mental illness, as if it is something a person chooses or enjoys. No one cares to look at the facts and see that there are a huge amount of illnesses that are hereditary and in other cases ones that inexplicably manifest. There are many different arguments and opinions in regards to the occurrence and relevance of a lot of mental health issues and that is to be expected, but it is the astounding ignorance to the subject that blows my mind. It seems to me that very few people really take the time to comprehend how debilitating mental illness can be to a family and not just the person with the condition. It is easier to ignore the problem than deal with it because in cases such as these the uphill battle never ends.

In dealing with a mentally disabled person there really is no “right” way to handle them and most of the time the resources are so limited that it can be can almost feel impossible to deal with. In our modern and high functioning society it is a complete and utter shame that we are not armed with the tools to contend with mental illness. Studies show that roughly 10% of children would benefit from some kind of mental health treatment, and that is not as small a number as you might think. Still, with all of this knowledge we do not spend enough money on research and treatment, and in the upcoming year billions of dollars will be slashed from national budgets to perform the necessary studies. In a country where we have a booming pharmaceutical industry most of the time the “solution” is a tiny pill, but in reality the pill is either just an aid or a mask, and there are a lot of cases where it is not necessary and can only exacerbate the problem. Anti- depressant medication, anti-psychotics, ADHD meds, anti-anxiety meds, etc. cannot be taken on a long term basis and/or can often result in larger problems than you started with. Our healthcare system and our government continuously fail the mentally ill. I have had to bear painful witness to the lack of help offered in our hospitals, by doctors, and by our government.

Personally, my husband and I have sought out the help of our local well renowned hospitals, the primary care physician of the person we have tried and failed to help, and we have tried to take legal action. In this country it is near impossible to declare someone mentally incompetent, not only because our legal system has in place incredibly stringent rules, but because attorneys charge on average a $10000.00 retainer to deal with anything associated with this. Sadly, we have hit EVERY SINGLE roadblock possible and have had to watch someone immensely important to my husband spiral further down the drain with each passing day. Our situation has come at a high emotional expense and is an every day struggle. In this terrible situation the person with the problem was left untreated and with no help for the better part of their life and a problem that could have been maintained and treated much easier has now grown into a near uncontrollable situation, leaving us with little recourse. There is no point in lying and saying it is easy…there are days you want to give up, days where you are mentally exhausted, and days where the mounting problems that incur as a result seem to be never ending. A lot of times people walk away because the damage the person leaves in their wake can be crippling and trust me, we have fought the desire to do so many times. The commitment people like this require is huge and in between jobs and our own lives it is a challenge to keep up.

On top of all of the above mentioned issues, the biggest handicap is usually in the people that surround you, as most people never want to address mental health problems when they notice them. It is less difficult to deal with in most cases when it becomes evident in a child as finding a coping mechanism and psychiatric help is easier, but it isn’t always evident at that point in a persons life and a large part of the time shame and denial usually stop people from taking the proper action. No one cares to think of the fact that you send your children off into the world that is already hard enough without limitations, let alone with them. These children will become someone’s classmate, someone’s neighbor, someone’s co-worker, someone’s spouse, and sometimes someone’s parent. You don’t want to be parent responsible for letting this person damage other people’s lives, especially those of the children they will eventually have. Family members tend to become enablers and just band aid all the issues by throwing money at the problem, giving in when times get rough and you can’t ignore the problem, and by placing blame where they shouldn’t. Again, my husband and I have dealt with enablers and this has stifled every small victory we have had. In the end when everything becomes overwhelming and there is nothing left to do to cover the issue up the enablers walk away or become full of pointless regret, and leave other people to rifle through the so-called rubble.

As you can tell I am incredibly and immensely passionate about this subject and I can also admit that until I was involved in a situation that required me to be educated in mental health issues I was hugely ignorant, even though I thought I wasn’t. BUT, instead of trying to blame other people for their obvious neglect we have tried to take action, even though we haven’t been successful. The agonizing truth is there is only so much you can do once the person is an adult, and you are not their parent or spouse. It is gut wrenching to watch someone be victim to their mental health issues and this is why awareness is so important. You can’t help and stop everything, but there is a lot you can do. Don’t sit around and let life happen, take action, be a part of the solution and not a part of the demise! Being an “I should have, could have, would have’ person offers no help….

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