I realize this might be my most painful entry to date. Because our country demonizes people with mental health issues, there is so little information and not accurate at that, available to us. Two groups stand out as trying to bridge the gap in information and acceptance -- MHA and NAMI. I only have personal knowledge of NAMI - the National Alliance on Mental Illness - and it has not been extensive. The first person to introduce me to NAMI was mentally ill herself but had no awareness of it. Years later, when I was grieving over the fact that I was a terrible mother, and had ruined all my relationships, a good and kind friend took me to one of NAMI's Family Classes. What helped the most was meeting other parents and people with similar problems as mine, and how they were coping, or not coping, with them.
This always reminds me of how we demonize mentally ill people. Remember Thomas Eagleton, McGovern's candidate for VP who was thrown out for suffering depression (HOW DARE HE)? Very few people talk about seeing a counselor for depression or other issues -- anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic attacks, manic depression, bipolar issues, etc. etc. I tell people if I see a counselor or psychologist, but then again, I got tired of all the secrets being kept by my family. The trouble with my approach is that it tends to frighten people. We have never accepted OTHER-NESS in this country -- we have always demonized differently abled people, for example, and perhaps even more people who suffer depression or mental illness.
One remarkable exception stands out in my mind -- PATTY DUKE. This delightful star had the courage to share that she was bipolar with the world, and what a difference the medication lithium made in her quality of life and the lives of people around her. Her own and possibly a publicist's words: “I subscribe to the theory that says you're a product of all your experiences,” recently said Anna Patty Duke Pearce. And with a life that has been described as being close to one out of a Dickens novel, Anna Pearce, better known to the world as Patty Duke, has experienced more in her life than most heroines in classic novels do. Her story, as a woman, who has emerged from a person who was self-loathing and struggling with a mental illness and suicide attempts, to a mental health speaker and one of the most brilliant actresses of any generation, is one which could serve as an inspiration for most anyone."
"Response to Anna and her mental illness was overwhelming when the movie originally aired on ABC in late 1990. The hotline number for The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, which Anna gave out before the ending credits, was flooded with phone calls from people, who through Anna’s story, recognized that they, or a loved one, suffered from this horrible illness and now wanted to seek help.
"Writing the book, playing herself in the movie, and speaking about mental health, has made it possible for Anna to help others, as well as herself in understanding that those who are mentally ill are not alone, and that there is help out there for those who want it.
"Bantam, the publishers of Call Me Anna, approached Anna to write another book, this time specifically concerning her mental illness. A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness was published in 1992. Anna’s story is told in alternating chapters and other facts are told by medical reporter Gloria Hochman in the other chapters."
My husband was a criminal defense attorney who defended parole violators. Sadly, because of our obnoxiously criminal Governor Reagan, hospitals were closed and mentally ill people were pushed to the sidewalk and crime. These were the majority of my husband's clients. Not only were they vulnerable, once put in jail, they did not receive their medication. Guess what? They were often returned to prison because they never got the care they needed. I am happy to say there is one exception recently to the scenario of HOMELESS, MENTALLY ILL, AND DRUG ADDICTED VETERANS who are often in jail or on parole, etc. Partially due to a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration there are now places these veterans can go to get off the streets and get services. One of those places, at least in California, is right across the street from my house - Gateways Mental Hospital. Over 75 veterans with mental health and drug addiction issues are now housed at this facility and being treated. At least this is the assumption. They are helped with finding housing as well because there has been turnover in the population. I am hopeful that this is helping at least our veterans.
But the average mentally ill homeless person is still out on the streets alone. We are surrounded by homeless people in my area. We know that many of them are mentally ill. Not only are they not receiving help, they are also being CRIMINALIZED by the city of Los Angeles and Mayor Garcetti. I am painfully aware all the time of homelessness and can only think that THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE, GO YOU OR I. My husband has begun giving money to a young woman who is under a bridge alone, speaks no English, and didn't trust him at first. He managed to convince her that he didn't want anything from her. But we worry about her all the time being alone. This is not a kind city. In fact, I find Los Angeles to be a cruel city, and much crueler than I ever realized.
Los Angeles criminalizes the homeless.
But I'm straying from the main topic here - MENTAL ILLNESS MONTH. I personally have experienced my own forms of mental illness, and the illnesses of my loved ones. My mother suffered serious depression, as I believe did my dad, but they felt that therapy was indulgence and not applicable to them. My father always told me to go change the world, instead of contemplating my navel. (His exact words.) All this meant was that any suffering - manifestation of their illness -- was taken out on those around them. Of course that meant me and my sister. My sister's response to this situation was to become a bully. Being bullied often causes one to become a bully. She made sure that I was left without defenses. But she also managed to capture center stage at every moment so that my parents had no idea what I was experiencing - including her abuse.
Because I had never dealt with my own depression as a youth, I was unable to recognize the problems with my one child. I thought if I kept her busy, involved her in the arts -- flute, dance, visual art -- and more, she would be just fine. Having a fulfilling life would be enough. But I was so wrong. Sometimes mental illness is inherited. Often I think. And sometimes it is circumstance -- or perhaps the circumstances can trigger it. I can detail the moments I now realize were signs of mental difference. I do sincerely believe that a relatively adjusted and healthy loving family can handle mental illness more easily than a broken, dysfunctional one. Sometimes however, there is absolutely nothing that can be done.
One issue I haven't dealt with here at all is medication. I mentioned NAMI to a great teacher friend who is an advocate for Special Ed and she was very negative about them. And I believe this is because their solutions are pretty traditional and call upon the use of heavy medications. No one likes the way medications make them feel. I myself took about ten different types of anti-depressants to get through my life. None was satisfactory, and ultimately I found I was able to keep the demons at bay if I exercised at least one and more likely two hours a day. But I have met people who have found medication helpful. I want to keep an open mind about this issue but I am open to all opinions. I tried to find healthier alternatives but they didn't always work. Some illnesses do require meds just as Anna Patty Duke Pearce's did.
To be continued someday...
Mental Health America - http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may
National Alliance on Mental Illness - https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth
Official Patty Duke site - http://www.officialpattyduke.com/bio.htm
National Coalition for the Homeless - http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf