Coronavirus Has Become The Great Equalizer For The Mentally Ill

For years now, I have attempted to combat the stigma associated with mental illness.  Again and again, I have given real world examples, approached the subject from differing angles, even used charts and graphs, hoping to help those who have never experienced it themselves better understand.  Yet, sadly I still often feel like I fall short.  While those who are living with mental illness have contacted me numerous times to thank me for putting their experiences into words, there are still those who could not wrap their minds around what it was like to live with our diagnosis.

That is, they couldn’t fully understand until this pandemic hit.

Day after day, for months now, I continue to see postings, comments and tweets that could have been written by any one of the millions of people who struggle every day with various mental illnesses.


People talk about being worried all the time, sometimes not even knowing what it is that they are worried about, only that the ever-present feeling of dread is looming there, hanging over them.

People talk about being afraid of their world falling apart, the economy crumbling, their job not being there after all of this is over.  They worry about not being smart enough to home school their kids, and of the dangers of sending them back to school in the height of the pandemic. They worry about the house not being clean enough if they have to do a video conference with their co-workers or whether they are even capable to adequately work from home for any length of time. They worry about bills accumulating faster than money comes in and the continuous threat of losing their homes due to evictions and foreclosures.

Even seemingly little things like running to the store for food or toilet paper feel huge.  The world outside doesn’t feel safe.  What if the store is out of whatever we need when they get there?  What if they bump into someone sick? What if they bring the virus home?  The sound of someone nearby coughing makes them jump and want to run back home to safety.  Many even put off going out for days until they absolutely have to, the dreaded eventual trip weighing on them.

People talk about being worried incessantly and excessively about their loved ones and friends, of imagining worst case scenarios of their illnesses and deaths, even though they know they are currently safe and healthy.

Though the common sense part of their brain keeps firing off, trying to remind them that everything is currently okay, and that things will likely eventually be okay again, they cannot help but feel like everything they are worried about is not only possible but probable.  Everything seems to be hanging heavily and even little things feel too big to handle some days.

They feel restless. Their mind runs nonstop.  Even reading the news feels overwhelming, yet they struggle to look away because they feel an urgency to stay informed.  They feel like they have no control over their lives, as if everything is spiraling down into chaos, getting crazier by the day, and there’s absolutely nothing they can do to stop it.

They talk about the confusion of differing information out there, of never knowing what to believe, who to trust, and being fearful of choosing incorrectly and it leading to disaster.

People talk about being continuously exhausted as the pandemic drags on and on, about wishing things would just be over but fearing there is no end in sight. They’re tired of thinking about the coronavirus, tired of worrying about it, want it to just go away. Yet it continues to loom, to linger, to threaten their peace of mind and their very sanity.

All of that is anxiety.

THAT is what people who live with an anxiety disorder go through every single day over a multitude of things in our lives.


People talk about that feeling of hopelessness.

They feel trapped at home without any real purpose. They are constantly dragging throughout the day.  They can’t stay focused. They are eating and sleeping all the time or not at all.  Some complain about not even enjoying their favorite foods anymore or their favorite shows no longer bringing them any joy.

Some feel all alone.  Many of those feel isolated even with others around, afraid to talk about what they are feeling and going through because they don’t want to seem crazy.  They pull inwards, trying to cope and to put on a brave face, even though they feel like they are falling to pieces inside.

Homeschooling has become overwhelming – they don’t remember school being that hard and feel inadequate because they are struggling to help their kids with basic subjects.  They feel they are letting everyone down by not being enough. Yet the thought of sending kids back to school feels equally as disastrous. It is as if no matter what choice they make, it’ll be wrong, that every option is equally bad and hopeless.

Life itself feels exhausting to them.  There’s times they just feel numb to it all.  Other times, they just want to cry.  Often, they just resort to sleeping, or mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching random shows, though they can barely recall afterwards what it was that they saw.  They feel they are just going through the motions and desperately wish life would just get back to normal – though they know there is nothing they could do to change anything.

Some people are attempting to regain control of their lives, to go out and do something, anything, to reclaim the life they once knew. Yet, while out and about, they are distracted by all that could go wrong, by wanting to return to the safety of their homes. Though part of them desperately wants to enjoy their time out, their thoughts and feelings hang heavy on them, throwing a dark cloud over it all. They feel guilty for everything – for even trying to go out, for trying to have fun, for being too lax or not taking enough precautions. They apologize to others for sucking all the fun out of what could have potentially been a nice day, feeling they somehow seem to be ruining everything they touch.

They see other people being productive, using their downtime wisely to accomplish so many things. They wish they could get things done, as well, but seem to have no desire, no drive to do anything. They find themselves procrastinating and then beating themselves up for their inactivity, which in turn makes themselves procrastinate more, caught in an endless loop where nothing gets done and then they beat themselves up for that lack of productivity.

All of that is depression.

That is what people struggling with a depression diagnosis go through on a regular basis.


I have seen people talk about wanting to be productive during this downtime, taking on a multitude of projects, more than any one person could legitimately handle, convinced they have the time and energy to do it all, only to crash into an overwhelmed, discouraged heap days later with everything half completed.  They go through cycles of manic, larger than life aspirations and heavy, depressing reality.

People talk about feeling irrationally angry, of feeling fed up about everything and nothing in particular at the same time. They find themselves continuously annoyed with everyone in their life and even the pandemic as a whole.

They describe many of the feelings common with depression, but with an entirely different mess added to the mix. They talk about having feelings that boomerang and yo-yo from one end to another, or sometimes both extremes at once. They talk about feeling so much, in so many directions, that they cannot even put it all into words.

Those highs, lows and extremes are all aspects of bipolar disorder.

People struggling with bipolar disorder often find themselves experiencing a wide variety of emotions and extremes with no rhyme, reason, pattern or predictable duration.


The list goes on and on of ways this pandemic has helped mirror mental illness in the everyday lives of people who have never experienced it before and struggled to understand it. In the last few months, I have seen these sentiments appear and reappear throughout the country as pockets of positive cases sprung up and the epicenters continued to shift. No matter where the worst of the pandemic currently resides in the country, though, the narrative has remained largely the same.

Whenever I see people talking about their struggles during this pandemic, I want to call out “YES! Yes to this tenfold! That is exactly what it is like!” in hopes of turning it into a teachable moment.

At the same time, I find myself saddened, because I wouldn’t wish any of these experiences on anyone else, even if they are temporary and likely to end when this crisis is over.  I know what it is like to live with anxiety and depression every single day for years on end. I grew up seeing my mother struggle with bipolar disorder and now watch my fiance battle it on a daily basis. I am intimately familiar with many of the struggles of living with a mental illness. It breaks my heart to see so many others going through these struggles because I know firsthand how hard it can be.

As strange as it sounds, though, beneath it all, this pandemic has given me a strange sense of unnerving calm. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel entirely odd, different, unbalanced or crazy.  For the first time, I don’t feel singled out, the odd woman out in a world where everyone else seems to be breezing through life, coping much better than I could ever dream. For the first time, everyone else can finally understand all the feelings I go through every single day.  At least in that one aspect, the pandemic has become the great equalizer for those of us with mental illness.

I can only hope that their memories do not fade, though, once all of this is over.  Perhaps now that more people understand and have experienced many of the feelings commonly associated with mental illness even on a temporary basis, they will be more empathetic to the struggles many of us face every single day. Though even if those memories do eventually fade away, I hope everyone currently struggling to cope with the weight of the pandemic knows, as those of us in the mental health community often reassure each other, that none of you are alone. Though there are no easy answers or solutions to much of what you are feeling, we understand and we are all here, even if physically apart, to offer our support. Please never be afraid to seek help if you find you cannot cope on your own. Stay strong.

Stop Blaming Mental Illness For The Abhorrent Behavior Of Anti-Maskers

Whenever anyone behaves poorly or against the grain of what is considered socially acceptable, many people automatically attribute it to that person being crazy, off their rocker, completely unhinged, mentally ill. There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness that many assume that any unreasonable action or poor behavior must be synonymous with mental illness, because why else would someone behave so badly unless they were crazy and mentally ill.

Our country is currently in the midst of a viral pandemic, seemingly split down the middle. On one side, we have those who fundamentally believe in science, medicine and fact and are willing to take precautions for the safety of all. And on the other, we have those who are trying to politicize the virus, with many touting that the virus itself is a hoax, or no worse than the flu, or simply declaring it not their problem because nobody they know has been affected by it yet. These pandemic deniers, minimizers and anti-maskers have become increasingly fond of video recording themselves as they supposedly “stand up for their rights”, planning strikes against businesses attempting to abide by restrictions put in place for the safety of all. They storm into stores, refusing to wear masks, recording both themselves and the reactions of others, hoping to earn their 5 minutes of fame. They go in with the sole intention of showing their defiance, causing turmoil to businesses, workers and customers alike, and creating a scene worthy of becoming a viral trend.

As we have seen time and again during this pandemic, this type of egregious showboating often backfires, with those who are thumbing their nose at health restrictions ultimately being thrown out of stores and banned, being widely and publicly shamed for their apathy, and in some cases even being fired from their jobs as a result of their very public displays. Yet these bizarre occurrences continue in America, partly because these individuals want to make it fundamentally clear that they believe their personal right to not wear a mask is more important than everyone else’s right to not get sick or die, and partly because they ultimately hope to go viral for their bad behavior, to become infamous on the internet.

Yet whenever someone is called out for their horrid behavior, many people immediately blame mental illness. People assume that in order for someone to do something as foolish as to outright deny a viral pandemic that has infected over 18.5 million people worldwide and killed over 700k in less than a year, let alone to make such a spectacle of themselves by outright refusing to care about others, they must be “crazy” and “unbalanced”, that they surely must be mentally ill.

Often people in this country automatically associates horrible behavior such as this with mental illness, pointing fingers and claiming those involved “obviously need mental help” because their utter disregard for everyone else is unfathomable. Other times, the perpetrators themselves attempt to blame their own horrendous actions on mental illness whenever they are confronted. They cavalierly issue a non-apology, using mental illness as their scapegoat instead of taking any amount of personal responsibility for their own ridiculously irresponsible, ignorant actions. It’s as if they are smirking, shrugging and dismissively claiming they should not be held accountable because they are, after all, “crazy”.

Sadly, much of this comes from the stigma attached to mental illness. It is much easier for many people to assume that anytime anyone behaves despicably, they must be “crazy” and “mentally ill” than to consider that those individuals might just be inconsiderate, attention-seeking people who do not care about anyone but themselves. It is much easier to designate mental illness as the catch all scapegoat for all the wrongs in society than to consider that these people are behaving poorly simply because a portion of our society glorifies their bad behavior.

As someone who struggles with mental illness myself and who actively advocates for the mental health community, I would like to make it very clear that there is an enormous difference between the actions of these people and the mental illness community as a whole. While it is possible that someone who displays this type of abhorrent behavior might also be struggling with a mental illness, mental illness itself is not immediately to blame whenever anyone behaves inappropriately or with malicious intent. People who have mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, ptsd, and bipolar disorder deal predominantly with issues such as self-worth, motivation to accomplish daily tasks, and battling the demons in their own heads and the trauma of their past. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, could not have put it more perfectly when addressing the myth that being mentally ill automatically means you are “crazy”:

It’s plain and simple, having a mental illness does not mean you are “crazy.” It means you are vulnerable. It means you have an illness with challenging symptoms — the same as someone with an illness like diabetes. While mental illness might alter your thinking, destabilize your moods or skew your perception of reality, that doesn’t mean you are “crazy.” It means you are human and are susceptible to sickness and illness, the same as any other person. (1)

When attempting to attribute mental illness directly to poor behavior, let’s consider the penal system. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are currently approximately 2.3 million Americans incarcerated. (2) Yet, according to statistics by NAMI, “Only 5% of violent crimes in the U.S. are committed by people with serious mental illness. The unfortunate truth is that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.”(1) Furthermore, “Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have ‘a recent history’ of a mental health condition.” (3) Though there are always exceptions, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not the least bit violent or otherwise confrontational, they are not by and large out committing crimes. With only one in five people who are incarcerated having any type of recent mental illness diagnosis,and only 5% of those with a mental illness being convicted of a violent crime, being mentally ill is clearly not the predominant driving force behind bad behavior.

Even if someone who is mentally ill were to momentarily lose control and behave poorly and irrationally, they are extremely unlikely to go on grandiose, premeditated video recorded rampages with the intention to upload the fallout later to the internet, screaming about their supposed rights to do whatever they please even if it means harming or killing others in the process. People who are mentally ill don’t normally plan out and intentionally video record their outbursts from start to finish in order to garner internet attention but rather any adverse reactions they may have are typically an unscripted, unplanned, unrecorded, spontaneous result of someone who is struggling to cope with life in the moment.

People who are struggling with mental illness often isolate and shut down. We struggle every single day to concentrate and focus on simple things, to function and accomplish daily tasks. Nearly one in five people, an estimated 46.6 million adults in the United States today, is currently struggling with a mental health diagnosis. Again, according to NAMI, severe mental illness is defined as “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” (4) In other words, even the most severe mental illnesses are defined specifically by the impairment and limitations they place on the lives of those who struggle with them. Being mentally ill does not typically send people out on premeditated, politically-fueled tirades and crusades to callously violate the health and safety of others for personal validation or internet infamy. If these types of self-recorded outings and outbursts were commonly indicative of mental illness, with over 450 million people suffering from mental illness worldwide according to the World Health Organization (5), there would be drastically more people causing scenes like this all over the globe.

When taking into account that there are 2.3 million people currently incarcerated and only roughly twenty percent of those have any type of mental illness diagnosis, we are looking at roughly 460,000 inmates who are mentally ill. When you further consider that there are roughly 46.6 million people in the United States currently struggling with mental illness, those who are incarcerated and also have a mental illness diagnosis account for less than one percent of the over all mentally ill population. Again, the proof is in the pudding. Over 99% of the mentally ill community are going through the motions of living their everyday lives, struggling with their diagnosis, not out committing crimes or thumbing our noses at laws or restrictions put in place for the safety of all.

We are not gathering en masse or heading out in droves, intent on recording ourselves causing a scene in the desperate hope it may make us internet famous. Many of us struggle to even function at all, let alone make plans even remotely close to this extent. Rather, these are the calculated actions of self-centered, egotistical people who are showing complete disregard and apathy for everyone else, people who place more value in their own temporary fame than in the health of their families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. These are attention-seeking individuals throwing temper tantrums, so hungry for their five minutes of infamy that they are willing to put other people’s lives at legitimate risk just to have their name trending on the internet.

Though you may see the occasional anti-mask sentiment in other countries, no other country has the widespread, reoccurring, largely combative and often explosive or violent issues that the United States has with people being unwilling to tolerate minor temporary inconveniences for the safety of all during a global pandemic. While there are some people in other countries who may disagree with wearing a mask, you don’t hear frequent stories about their citizens recording themselves causing combative scenes like you do in the United States. To date, I have personally only seen one news story out of the UK about protesters recording themselves storming a store and making a scene. The vast majority of those who disagree with wearing a mask in other countries simply organize peaceful protests or hand out informational material explaining their beliefs on the matter. For instance, in late July there was a peaceful anti-mask protest in London attended by hundreds of protesters. More importantly, those who disagree with wearing masks in many other countries appear to be a small minority. The vast majority of people in many other countries have taken a united stance, observed health precautions with little to no issue and have, in the majority of countries, seen cases declining by the day as a result.

You simply do not see the largely hostile and combative anti-mask sentiment to the scale and degree elsewhere that you see in the United States. Only in the United States are we seeing such a ridiculous and reoccurring blowback against common sense during a viral pandemic that has frequently escalated to rage-fueled outbursts and outright violence, with people even being physically assaulted simply for asking others to comply with restrictions and regulations. Only in the United States are we seeing the virus being widely politicized, regularly used and abused to garner people’s five minutes of internet fame at the detriment to other people’s lives. And only in the United States is a bonafide medical condition being used as a catch all scapegoat to garner all the blame for the bad behavior of these self-centered individuals. With mental illness being a worldwide problem, if this abhorrent behavior was truly a direct result of mental illness, these outbursts would surely be widespread worldwide, as well. But this type of disturbing behavior is predominantly an American thing, driven not by mental illness but rather the largely American desire to become famous or infamous by any means necessary, even if it means putting other people at risk.

Whenever a woman shoves her cart through a grocery store while defiantly refusing to wear a mask, recording herself screaming about her rights to do as she pleases other people be damned, or whenever a man records himself causing a scene by screaming that he is under attack in a store because he was asked to either mask up or leave, or whenever a woman video records herself violently attacking a display of masks while proclaiming she has had enough with the pandemic and being told what to do, it goes viral because people cannot fathom others behaving so ridiculously, screaming like petulant toddlers throwing a temper tantrum because they were asked to be considerate of the health and safety of others. As long as these people continue to trend as train wrecks that other people laugh at for their sheer absurdity and willful ignorance, there will continue to be people out there acting out just for the attention that going viral brings. While we cannot stop those people from behaving badly, nor can we stop others from watching their ridiculous outbursts with abject horror, we must stop assuming their behavior is automatically caused by mental illness instead of simply being the result of attention-seeking, arrogant, apathetic human beings desperately chasing their 5 minutes in the spotlight. Often, bad behavior directly correlates to inconsiderate people who care only about themselves, not to mentally ill people. We don’t deserve to be scapegoats for their poor behavior.






More than Just a Faceless Number in the Pandemic

There’s nothing quite like those moments of enlightenment when you realize that your feelings and motives go deeper and are more personal than you previously realized or openly admitted.  Why do I care so deeply about people being responsible and staying home as much as possible during this pandemic?
Whenever I was asked, my first impulse answer was always that I didn’t want anything to happen to those I care about and their loved ones, that there are people in my life that are older or are immuno-compromised, friends who are considered high risk because they just got over cancer or who have just had a baby. I care a lot, perhaps too much at times, about other people, mostly because I know what it is like to struggle and suffer and I don’t want anyone else to needlessly go through any heartache or pain.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how much everything affects others that I often forget to consider my own personal situation. Perhaps I also struggle to consider myself among those who need extra protection, those who are determined to be at a higher risk, those in the biggest danger. I have come to see myself as a fighter, a survivor, and being lumped into that category is like accepting that I am fragile, weak, that I am less than the strong person I believe myself to be.
I have been through a lot in my life.  As a child, I endured every type of abuse imaginable.  Physical, mental and emotional abuse lent to my PTSD diagnosis.  Sexual abuse led to my doctors telling me I might never be able to have children.  Yet I persevered.
At sixteen, my abusive childhood culminated with my mother shooting my father.  I was bounced around among family members for a little over a year before finding myself on my own before I was even eighteen years old. Yet I survived.
Even though addiction ran in my family in the form of both drug and alcohol abuse, and trauma like mine often serves as a catalyst for substance abuse, I managed to avoid both and powered on.
I have struggled with severe depression my entire life, due in part to abuse and trauma, and partly due to a genetic mutation that deprives my brain of the substances it needs to adequately moderate my moods, yet I found ways to continue to function and continue to fight.
I have suffered much heartache over the years, from failed unhealthy and abusive relationships, to multiple miscarriages, yet refused to let any of it ultimately break me.
Cancer runs in both sides of my family.  It stole my mother’s brother way too young.  I watched as it slowly ate away at my father until there was nothing left of him and as it almost killed my mother.  Starting in my twenties, I have had numerous cancer-related health scares of my own.  I had two pre-cancerous atypical pap smears that required cryosurgery and was told afterwards that they were caught just in the nick of time.  In my thirties, they found a mass on the side of my breast extending under my arm that was deemed non-cancerous.  At forty, I had to have one of my ovaries removed because there was a large cyst on it with a fibrous mass inside.  Thankfully, the biopsy after my oophorectomy showed the mass to be benign.  And finally, a little less than two years ago, doctors found not one but two meningioma tumors on my brain.  Yet I continue on and refuse to lose hope.
I continue on because I am a survivor. That is what I do.  I keep going. I power on.  I fight whatever life throws my way.
And I do so with kindness in my heart.  I never want my own life experiences to make me jaded or cruel.  I know what it feels like to suffer and I would not wish my struggles on anyone else.  I try to always show others kindness regardless of whether it was ever shown to me in my own times of need.  I have always firmly believed that there is too much suffering in this world and it is our responsibility to be kind to one another, to watch out for each other, and to ease each other’s pain whenever possible.
And somewhere along the way, I rediscovered myself.  I found a miraculous inner strength, a renewed sense of purpose and even was blessed enough to have wonderful children and find a deep and true lasting love.  I have transformed my own pain into mental health advocacy for others.  I write and speak out to encourage others to keep going, to never give up.  I empathize with the struggles of others and let them know they are not alone.  My writing has been showcased worldwide, discussed on television, radio and internet media programs and shared by numerous government agencies, private practices, and advocacy groups along the way.  I have managed to reach and help more people than I ever imagined possible.  My children and my writing are a legacy I am proud to leave behind.
I have come a long way in life and I have overcome many obstacles along the way.  I am a fighter.  A survivor.
However, to the medical community, I am reduced to a simple list of stats.  Though in normal times, doctors often make an effort to acquaint themselves with their patients to better serve their needs, we are currently in the middle of a worldwide viral pandemic.  The number of infected is increasing daily by the thousands in my country.  And to make matters worse, I happen to live in New York – the current epicenter of the virus in the United States.  Doctors don’t have the time or the energy to get to know all of their patients well right now in an emergency setting.  They have to make split decisions based on medical history prior to infection.
And the simple fact is that I have cancer.  I have two tumors on my brain.  I’m honestly not sure it even matters that the tumors are benign or that right before the pandemic was declared a national emergency, my neurosurgeon informed us that my tumors have shown little to no noticeable growth in the last eighteen months’ of MRI scans.  The cancer diagnosis alone means that I am considered high risk and my treatment is considered a lesser priority than someone else without preexisting conditions.
The fact that I have continuously fought hard and survived many things over the course of my entire life is irrelevant.
The fact that I have dedicated years to helping and advocating for others is irrelevant.
The fact that I am otherwise relatively healthy is irrelevant.
Even the fact that I am a mother and a fiance is irrelevant because every single person that comes through the hospital doors is family to someone.  They are all a son or a daughter.  Many are parents, grandparents, spouses, friends.  We all have a story.
But my story can be reduced to one word, a word that makes my treatment less of a priority during a pandemic. Cancer.
As much as I want to say, want to believe, that the primary reason if not the only reason I want people to stay inside and be responsible is to protect others, I have to accept that I need protecting, too.  My health and well-being is important, as well.  I am part of that at risk, high risk group.  If I get sick, my treatment will possibly, if not likely, be deemed less of a priority.
I don’t want to see myself as someone needing protection because I don’t want to be seen as a victim. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.  I am a fighter.  A survivor.  I have beaten the odds again and again.  I have a lot of living left to do and a lot of fight left in me.  I have children who I long to see grow into their own.  I have a wedding to plan.  I have more writing and advocacy to do.  And I have this cancer to beat.
My staying home unless absolutely necessary only goes so far to flatten the curve.  I am depending on others to be responsible, as well.  Every person out there interacting is a possible carrier and the more people congregating in a given area, the bigger and more likely the spread.  The more this virus spreads, the more likely I am to get it.  Hospitals in my state are already struggling to the point where do not resuscitate orders have been put in place if somebody dies.  If the hospitals become even more overwhelmed, they will be put in the same place Italy was at the apex of their crisis – with doctors having to choose who gets treatment and who dies based solely on their prior medical history.  And having tumors means if the hospitals are overwhelmed, I might be deemed not worth saving because they don’t have the manpower, equipment, time or energy to save everyone.
It’s easy to consider terms such as “acceptable losses” or to shrug off deaths of the elderly and sick as “the thinning of the herd” when you think in terms of abstract numbers instead of considering the actual people behind those numbers.  It is different when you consider the faces and stories of those people and the families they will be leaving behind.  Even one person needlessly contracting this virus and dying should be one person too many.  We all have families and stories.  We aren’t just faceless numbers.  And many of us still have a lot of life left to live and a greater purpose left to fulfill.
I didn’t come this far to only come this far.  I’m continuing to fight the good fight because I want to eventually leave this world a better, kinder place than it was when I entered it.
I don’t want to die.
I don’t want any of you to die either.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 5/4/20.


Republished on Yahoo News on 5/4/20.


Stop Blaming the Entire Mental Health Community Whenever a Senseless Tragedy Happens

Mass shootings are commonplace in the United States these days.  One community has barely had a chance to mourn and bury their dead before another incident appears somewhere else on the map.  After the school shooting yesterday, a jaw-dropping statistic began to appear across the internet: In the U.S., there has been a gun incident at a school every 60 hours so far in 2018.  That is one every two and a half days.

Everyone is so quick to point fingers and lay blame.  One of the biggest scapegoats is the mentally ill.  Mental illness has become a dirty word.

When someone does something senseless and tragic, one of the first things you hear is that it wouldn’t have happened if not for better mental health treatment.  When there is a shooting, people question how someone who was mentally ill had access to guns.  When someone drives a vehicle into a crowded area or a parent kills their children, people question why someone who was that mentally ill was even allowed out on the street.  People clamor for more laws restricting the rights of the mentally ill for the protection of communities at large.  Politicians respond by shouting promises that there will be change in lieu of this mental health epidemic.

As someone who has struggled with mental illness my entire life, what I see are torches and pitchforks, what I am hearing is one step away from “lock all the crazies up for the safety of everyone else!”  It is a slippery slope.

Please know that I am in no way disputing that those people who commit senseless atrocities like mass shootings have severe mental issues and are desperately in need of help.  What I am saying is that mental illness exists on a broad spectrum.  Mental illness is  term to describe a wide variety of conditions that originate in the brain.  The scope of mental illness extends from diseases of the brain to diseases of the mind. Also, please know that there is a distinct difference between the majority of mental illnesses and the behavior disorders that sociopaths and psychopaths fall into.

Everyone suffering from a mental illness is not the same.  The Diagnostic and Statistical manual, or DSM, is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used to diagnose mental illnesses.  The current APA list has around 400 different diagnosis, covering a wide range of mental, emotional or behavioral disorders.*

Yes, there are people that are mentally ill that are violent and commit unspeakable acts.  It might even be fair to say that someone has to have something wrong in their head to even be able to carry out anything as heinous as a mass shooting.  But the majority of people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are non-violent.

According to recent statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI**, 18.5% of adults in the United States, over 43 million people, experience mental illness every year.  If a mental illness diagnosis alone was enough to determine a person was dangerous and likely to commit violent acts, with 43 million people suffering from mental illness every year, the numbers of violent crimes would be astronomical.

With millions of people in prisons across the United States and over a million more being sentenced each year to incarceration***, you would assume that prisons would be a hotbed of mental illness.  However, again according to NAMI statistics**, only 24%, not even one quarter of inmates, have had any recent mental health diagnosis.

The fact is that a recent study published in the American Journal of  Public Health shows that a person with mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator****.  Based on this study’s statistics, almost one-third of adults who have been diagnosed with mental illness had been victimized in some way during the previous 6 month period, with over 40% being victimized multiple times.  Of the 23% of mentally ill persons in the study who had committed any sort of violent act in the previous 6 months, roughly 2/3 of the violence had occurred in a home or other residential setting.  A meager 2.6% of violence occurred outside the home in a school or workplace environment.  The most startling fact to come to light in this study, however, is that the victims of violence were 11 times more likely to commit violent acts themselves afterwards.

Yes, something has to be done in regards to mental health treatment in the United States.  But it is NOT because the mentally ill population is inherently violent and unsafe to wander the streets unrestricted and unregulated.  Mental illness and the way it is regarded in this country is a societal epidemic.  Those who have been diagnosed with mental illness must deal with constant stigma.  We are ostracized as being crazy and unbalanced, simultaneously a joke to be mocked and a dangerous monster who needs to be locked up for their own safety and the safety of others.  We often hide our diagnosis for fear of judgment or minimize our struggles to reassure others they have nothing to fear or worry about.

The way a mentally ill diagnosis is handled in this country has to change.  We need to be able to speak up, speak out and receive the treatment we need.  Though NAMI statistics show over 43 million people struggle with mental illness each year, only 41% have received treatment for their condition**.  Roughly one-fourth of the disability applications for Social Security list mental illness as their primary impairment.  Though NAMI statistics** show that 9.8 million people annually experience a severe mental illness that drastically impairs their ability to function, statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health show that only roughly 2.7 million people are deemed eligible for SSI or SSDI*****.  As I can attest, anyone who is applying for disability due to mental illness is advised to get a lawyer and to expect to be denied at least once, if not multiple times, regardless of how much documentation you have for your diagnosis.  Though my mental illness is due in large part to a verifiable genetic mutation I was born with, combined with well-documented trauma, I, myself, have been denied multiple times and still am deemed ineligible by government standards.  For years, I have struggled with red tape, jumping through hoop after hoop, hoping to get the help I need, only to hit brick wall after brick wall, having to begin the process all over again.

The lack of adequate treatment for mental illness in this country has grown rampant.  Suicide is currently the 10th highest cause of death in this country, 3rd highest among 10-14 year olds and 2nd highest for 15-24 year olds, according to NAMI statistics**.  Recently, a video of a disoriented mentally ill woman being cast out on the street by a hospital staff has gone viral.  According to the National Coalition for Homelessness, between 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from “a severe form of mental illness”********.  Mental illness is listed as the 3rd highest cause of homelessness.  People are falling through the cracks, wandering the streets untreated, people are dying, our children are dying, and yet nothing is being done.  The lives of the mentally ill are one by one becoming nothing more than statistics.

It should not be so hard to get help in this country.

There are others who are afraid to reach out for help due to government restrictions on the mentally ill.  There is an epidemic of mental illness and substance abuse among our military.  According to the APA, almost one-fourth of our soldiers, up to 24.4%, are struggling with mental illnesses such as PTSD******.  A recent study published in Science Daily from The University at Buffalo observing the mental and physical effects of law enforcement determined that not only was PTSD and depression a substantial issue, but nearly one quarter of police officers admitted to suicidal thoughts, much higher than the 13.5% of the general population*******.  And these are only the statistics of those who have willingly come forward seeking treatment.  Due to the push for politicians to pass laws regulating gun ownership, a mental illness diagnosis could result in losing the right to even own a gun.  How do we encourage our soldiers and police officers to get the help they need when it could mean giving up their livelihood in the process?

I personally know many people who are afraid to have a record on file about their struggles with mental illness.  They are people who hunt for recreation and are legitimately afraid that a diagnosis would take away their 2nd amendment rights and their ability to feed their families.  They are people who fear a diagnosis would negatively impact their career or their ability to advance due to the stigma attached.  They are people who have seen firsthand how poorly the mentally ill are treated in this country and do not want to be labeled as crazy and unbalanced, as well.  So instead, they suffer in silence, without treatment, until something cracks and breaks.

Yes, there is a mental illness epidemic in this country that is leading to horrifically tragic events.  But it is NOT due to people with mental illness having access to guns nor is it due to mentally ill people wandering around free and unfettered.  It is a direct result of society’s treatment, and lack of treatment thereof, of the mentally ill population.  Please take a second again and consider the facts.

Fact: Over 43 million people every single year struggle with mental illness**.

Fact: Only 41% of those with a mental health condition have received medical help for their condition in the last year **.

Fact: One third of people with a mental illness are victimized and abused every six months and those who are victims of abuse are eleven times more likely to commit a violent act themselves****.

We desperately need to change how mental illness is viewed and treated in this country.  The mentally ill population does not need more restrictions and regulations.  We need more access to health care, better support and protections.  We need assurances that it is okay to seek help and guarantees that the millions of us with a mental illness diagnosis will not all become vilified due to the actions of a minute few.

We need the stigma and persecution to end and the help and healing to begin.

That is the only way that things can change.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/20/18.

* AMA literature with the DSM codes for the broad spectrum of mental illnesses can be found at:

** NAMI’s Mental Health by the Numbers statistics can be found at:

*** Bureau of Justice Statistics page that provides incarceration numbers can be found at:

**** Study entitled “Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses” can be found at:

***** Statistics from National Institute of Mental Health can be found at:

****** APA Statistics on Veterans can be found at:

*******Study on Law Enforcement done by the University of Buffalo, published by Science Daily can be found at:

******** The National Coalition for Homelessness report on Homelessness and Mental Illness can be found at:

Why, As Someone Who Speaks Out About Mental Illness, Donald Trump Scares Me

These are scary times we live in.

We are literally waking up every single day not sure if we will find ourselves in the midst of a nuclear war, a race war, or one of many other possible tragedies caused by the hasty words, actions and decisions of our nation’s “leader”.  Beyond all of that, as if that is not enough on its own, I have numerous mental health-related reasons why Donald Trump scares me.

Mental illness has become an epidemic of global proportions.  According to recent statistics released by NAMI, an estimated one in five people in this country, over 43 million people, struggle with it every single year.  Currently, only 41% of people struggling with mental illness are receiving mental health services.  Watching Trump whittle away at health coverage means that even less people will be able to afford to get the mental health treatment they need.

My fears regarding Trump extend far beyond the medical coverage he is systematically and vengefully stripping away from our citizens that need it most.  There are many other reasons I am sincerely afraid of our current president.

The fact that he openly mocked a disabled reporter for his condition in front of the press corp is mortifying.  Looking through his list of tweets provided by The New York Times, he has repeatedly taken jabs at his opponents and adversaries, hurling insults commonly used to mock the mentally ill like “crazy”, “wacko”, and “a real nut job”, acting as if mental  illness is a joke.  Mental illness is a bonafide disability that has been battling stigma and fighting to be taken seriously for far too long.  Trump has made it clear that he has no respect for those with disabilities.  We do not need nor deserve to become another one of his punchlines.

I have personal experience with narcissists in my past and have spent a great deal of time reading about and researching narcissistic personality disorder.  Many of the actions and behaviors he exhibits are commonly known and widely accepted markers for this mental disorder.

In one breath, Trump proudly declares that it is perfectly fine to grab a woman inappropriately and that he has done so in the past, suggesting that, as a man of power, he can get away with it.  He admitted to it in his own words in an interview with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush:

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

To forcefully touch a woman without her consent is sexual assault.

The next moment, he is touting that any accusations of sexual assault made against him are complete lies and fabrications, claiming the allegations are “totally phoney”“100% made up”“already proven false”, and “made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED”.  That is classic gaslighting.  When someone is gaslighting, they repeatedly insist past events never happened or minimize their actions, trying to make the victims appear crazy even when clear evidence exists to the contrary.

His narcissistic entitlement goes beyond women.  During his campaign trail, he happily declared that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Though Trump paid $25 million dollars to settle the case out of court, he continued to dispute allegations made against Trump University and did so “without an acknowledgment of fault or liability.”  People with narcissistic personality disorder believe themselves to be above other people, sometimes even above the law.

The narcissistic personality traits do not end there.  He actively “love bombs” those who support him, only to discard them and replace them with a new supply when they are of no further use.  He has repeatedly used triangulation to play opposing sides against each other, a common narcissistic tool.  He appears incapable of accepting any responsibility for his own actions or words.  He is overly arrogant and self-inflated, has an inherent need for approval and a lack of empathy for anyone else.

Perhaps the biggest thing that scares me about Trump, though, is that there is no question in my mind that he himself needs serious mental health treatment yet is highly unlikely to seek it out.  Narcissists are incapable of accepting that there is anything wrong with them.  The problem always lies with everyone else.  Yet, everyone who has dealt with someone with an untreated or undertreated mental illness can spot the signs.  I know I can.

I grew up with a mother who struggled with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder.  I lived through the ups, the downs, the irrational, delusional behaviors and potentially dangerous choices with no consideration for their consequences.  I suffered through the relentless lashing out and honing in on one specific target until the horse was beaten well past death.

I see so many of those behaviors mirrored in Trump and it terrifies me.  Whether he is going after Hillary Clinton, the NFL, the media, Obamacare, or Kim Jong Un, once he sets his sights on a target, he is incapable of stopping himself.  He keeps going back with an unfettered and illogical, unwarranted rage, intent on obliterating his target by any and all means necessary.

I’ve seen that rage before.  I grew up with that rage.  I grew up watching untreated mental illness that is fueled by that rage.  I know how it ends and it is not pretty.

With my mother, it ended with her showing up at my father’s work and shooting him twice in the head.

It isn’t a pistol, however, that Donald Trump is armed with.  As our president, he has the ability to deal damage and wreak havoc on not only a national but a global scale.  Among other things, he has the ability to both take affordable health care away from millions of people struggling with mental illness and the ability to start World War III.  His potential devastation is only limited by whatever his mind has honed in on at that particular moment as a target worthy of annihilation.

Nobody realized how dangerous my mother was until she had her pistol in hand.

I know the signs.  I’ve already lived through this story once on a smaller scale.

I don’t need a bomb to drop to accept how badly all of this could end if he is left unchecked and untreated.

It is a terrifying world out there.

And I am justifiably scared.


Depression Kills

I began this day like most others, pulling my laptop into bed with me, scrolling through emails and social media as I slowly wake up and try to gather enough motivation to start the day.  One of the tweets that crossed my path was a chart about suicide awareness, listing many of the contributing factors.  As I looked through them, though only one was labeled directly with mental illness, the majority of the others could be linked to depression, as well.  Half-awake, I hit the button to share, and added in my own two cents:

We need to stop treating mental illness as a dirty secret that we can’t talk about. Depression is killing people. Silence is killing people.

I continued my scrolling, continued waking up.  Grabbed a leftover piece of texas toast to take my pill with and continued on with my day.  I changed out the cage set for my sugar gliders, cleaned their cage, continued on with my regular routine.  Yet that post about suicide risk factors lingered in the back of my head, drumming along, refusing to be silent or to fade away.  My mind kept going back to it and my sleepy response to it.  Sometimes those thoughts that form when my mind is still muddled with sleep are clearer than anything I think about when wide awake.

Depression kills.

I think back to when I was a young teenager.  The son of one of my father’s friends killed himself.  He was in his late teens, a popular kid who played sports and had a long-term girlfriend that everyone assumed he would one day marry.  He was a few years older than me, around my brother’s age, so I didn’t know him well beyond the fact that our fathers were friends and we both were involved with sports at school.  He seemed happy enough.  Nobody saw it coming.  It blind-sided everyone, especially his father.  I always remembered his father as being this sweet, goofy guy who was always joking with my dad.  The last time I saw him, his eyes had a hollow, empty look to them, like part of him had died and would never fully recover.  It was my first exposure to suicide.

Depression kills.

I’ve known many people who have walked that ledge and attempted to take their own lives, myself included.  I remember my mother taking too many pills and my father frantically pleading with the emergency room to let her come home, that it was an absent-minded mistake, not an attempt, as my mother kept repeating “Jim, you can’t leave me here.. you can’t let them keep me,” and I sat quietly in a row of chairs they assumed was out of earshot.  Pills would be my choice, as well, the first time I tried.  Nobody wants to talk about struggling.  We make excuses and minimize situations.  We don’t address the gorilla in the room because it’s a hard conversation that nobody wants to make.

Depression kills.

Someone very dear to my heart almost lost his mother to a suicide attempt.  He was the one that found her, had to call the ambulance, pull her out of the tub, try to revive her and wait, praying someone came in time.  It scarred him for life and damaged their relationship beyond repair.  She had been struggling but, like many of us parents, always put on a brave face and pretended things were okay because no parent wants to appear weak in front of their children, but that is no excuse.  No child should ever have to see their parent like that, to fear not only for their parent’s life, but theirs, as well.  Every time now that I walk that ledge myself and consider giving up, I think of him and how that experience still haunts him years later and it snaps me right back.  I could never put my children through that.

Depression kills.

Not too long ago, I found out someone who had been a close, dear friend and much more years ago had lost his battle.  He was an incredible man with so much passion, so much to give the world.  He was the type of person who lit up a room just by being in it and made my life brighter just for knowing him.  He will forever be my one that got away.  He was struggling hard and couldn’t take the weight of his life pressing down on him.  He felt lost and alone, like he had no one, even though he had a brood of children who loved him to death and friends who adored him.  Everyone knew he had been struggling here and there, but figured that everyone struggles sometimes so nobody gave it a second thought.  Nobody really saw it coming.

Depression kills.

I receive letters and emails here and there from people who have read things I’ve written and related enough that they wanted to reach out and say something.  I always try to respond because I never want anyone to feel they have to struggle alone, that they reached out but were unheard.  I never spend as much time, though, as I do with anyone who messages talking about being affected by suicide.  I’ve spent entire days messaging back and forth with complete strangers because they lost a loved one, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, and just can’t seem to get past it.  I find myself going back and forth, trying to help explain everything from both sides, as the one who wants to die and as the one left behind, because I have been on both sides of that fence. It destroys people on both sides of that fence because, whether or not an attempt is successful, nobody on either side will ever be the same. Walking that ledge and wanting to die kills a piece of you, whether you actually die or not.  Having someone you love give up on life, feeling like your love wasn’t enough reason for them to keep going, kills a part of your heart just as much as if you had been the one to die.  I know how it feels on both sides.  But some things aren’t able to be explained.  Even if you know how it feels because you’ve been there, some things will never make sense.

Depression kills.

Every now and then you see stories in the news about celebrities killing themselves.  Whether it was a direct act or labelled as an “accidental overdose”, it is always followed by some vague statement about a “history of mental illness”.  Memorials are set up, posts are made.  The world seems momentarily heartbroken because someone in the spotlight has died.  Everyone remembers fondly their lives and mourns their death, yet everyone avoids focusing too much on what snuffed out so bright a light.  Mental illness is uncomfortable to talk about, even when viewed from a distance, because it forces us to consider how it may be affecting our lives, as well.  It sits there, the gorilla in the room that we all know is there but are afraid to address.

Depression kills.

The fact is that people are dying every single day because of mental illness.  Whether their depression is caused by the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or job, bullying, struggles with physical illness or whatever other reason, it is there, it is agonizing and it is unbearable.  People are struggling through life, feeling completely lost and alone, feeling like they have nobody to turn to, no one that understands.  People are suffering in silence because we’ve made them too afraid to speak up.  They’re afraid of being labeled, seen as weak, a danger to themselves or others, or a joke.  We’ve told them too often to suck it up and reminded them that others have it worse rather than acknowledging and addressing their pain.  These are people who are loved, cherished and adored, even if they themselves cannot see it.  They are our parents, our siblings, our partners, our children, our friends and our co-workers.  They are faces we see every day and names we carry imprinted on our hearts.  They are people who should never have had to die but they’re too afraid to speak out and we’re too uncomfortable to have that hard conversation.  So nothing is being said and the body count keeps growing.

Silence kills.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 11/14/16.

What It Is Like To Live With The Stigma of Mental Illness & Why We Need To Fight It

More and more often, you see blurbs and motivational pics across the internet from people talking about fighting the stigma of mental illness.  People bravely proclaiming they are no longer afraid, no longer ashamed of their diagnosis, encouraging others to speak out, as well.  For those who haven’t ever suffered silently through their own battles, it might seem like no big deal.  A non-issue.  You might think we’re attention-seekers, making mountains out of molehills.  You may rationalize that the majority of people don’t fully understand many different illnesses, yet all those other people aren’t going around proclaiming they’re battling any stigmas – they’re just going on with their lives, playing the cards they were dealt.  You may wonder why we cannot just quietly do the same thing.

Those suffering from mental illnesses have faced years, decades, lifetimes of persecution and discrimination.  We have been painted in books, television and movies as everything from dangerous monsters to dim-witted jokes.  We are looked at with fear, as if every misdeed and violent crime that occurs was due to mental illness.  Instead of sympathy or compassion, we are turned into one-liners and punchlines.  Though the majority of us have done nothing wrong, we find ourselves needing to reassure others that we are not a danger to ourselves or others.  We often bite our lips to keep from yelling out that we are not a joke, not wanting to be accused of having no sense of humor.

People assume that we are lazy, or just being negative.  They assume we’re just not trying hard enough to be happy, as if feeling this way was a choice.  We’re treated as if it was all in our heads and told our lives would be better if we just tried a little harder to be positive or if we truly accepted one religion or another into our lives.

We’re painted as being flawed, looney, touched in the head.  We’re told we have a screw loose, as if we’re broken.  We’re told we’re mental or basket cases because we cannot rein in our minds and force them to function properly by sheer will-power alone.

We’re treated like we’re weak because we may need therapy or medication.  We’re told our lives can’t be that bad or reminded that others have it worse, leaving us feeling like we either have to hold things in because others have minimized them, or forcing us to defend and justify our feelings as being worthy of acknowledgement.  We’re looked upon with pity, like we’re poor damaged souls who aren’t even strong enough to deal with our own emotions.  We’re told big kids don’t cry, women don’t cry, men don’t cry – only babies cry.  Suck it up.

We’re surrounded every day by people talking about mental illness in a negative light.  The media is quick to highlight if anyone has a history of mental illness when covering a crime, but is slow to report that, according to recent studies, we are three times as likely to be the victim of a crime than the offender.  According to these studies, the overwhelming majority of violence committed by the mentally ill occur in residential mental health facilities not in the public.  A large majority of the mentally ill that had reported abuse had been victimized on multiple occasions.  Yet we are treated as if we are the dangerous ones that need to be avoided.

North Carolina State University. “Mentally ill more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2014.

Popular culture has portrayed us all as blossoming psychopaths, well on our way to committing heinous crimes.  People openly talk about how we should all be locked away, not only for our own safety but the safety of others, as well.  People petition for us to have our basic rights stripped away, like the right to bear arms, and demand databases where we must all be registered and tracked, as if we have all guilty of some crime just in being ill.  Whenever one person who happens to be mentally ill commits a crime, we all hold our breath because somehow we know we’ll all be painted with that same broad brush.

We are forever biting our tongues as our illness is being treated as a joke.  Some use our diagnosis as an adjective, like it somehow defines us, sometimes interchanging it with derogatory slang like crazy.  Others misuse clinical words that refer to integral parts of our illness to describe mundane things, like using the word ‘triggered’ to describe something that just randomly upset them.  Whenever anyone has anything seriously wrong with them, they are labelled as mental.  Since we are all painted with the same broad brush strokes, people assume we’re all equally “unbalanced”.

There is no other illness or disease that carries the stigma with it that mental illness does.  It is an invisible illness.  Since people cannot see it, they are quick to doubt it or to minimize its effects.  Nobody would look at someone with a broken leg and suggest they should just try harder to walk.  Likewise, nobody would shame a diabetic for needing to take insulin to regulate their sugar and stay healthy.  It is acceptable to treat other organs and body parts that are not working properly, but for some strange reason, things are different when it comes to our brains.

There is sympathy for people suffering through cancer or Crohn’s or other illnesses and diseases where a person’s body began going haywire, fighting against itself.  People reach out in droves, wanting to help, to make sure they’ll be okay and know they have support.  We’re battling our own minds on a daily basis, yet instead of sympathy or support, we’re met with accusations and anger.  Asked why we haven’t just gotten over this yet.  We’re called drama queens and accused of being attention seekers.

We face this stigma every single day.  We hear it in the hallways at school and around the water cooler at work.  We hear it from family and friends.  We hear it from those who mean well but are uneducated about mental illness and think it will all fade away if we just smile and pray a little more.  We hear it from those who think they “know better” who tell us because they’ve gotten past their struggles, we should suck it up and get over ours, too.  And we hear it from those doubting mustafas who assume it’s “all in our heads and are just plain tired of hearing us whine”.  We hear it in your jokes and your angry rallying cries that because one mentally ill person committed some crime, we should all be rounded up and locked away.  We face the stigma EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. from every avenue of our life.

For those who still do not get why the fight against the stigma is such a big deal, please try to imagine being surrounded by people who make you feel, by their words and their actions, that your entire existence is inherently wrong, including every single thing you are feeling inside.  That you are broken and flawed, that you are both dangerous and a joke for things going on in your body that you have no control over.  Then take into consideration that many recent studies have shown that one in five people will struggle with some type of mental illness over the course of their lifetime.  That’s millions and millions of people: fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children, bosses, co-workers, friends.  If you have a family of five, chances are one of your family members will struggle one day.  If you work in an office of twenty, the odds are high that four of your co-workers are suffering.  If you cannot fathom what it is like living with mental illness yourself, count yourself blessed.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Mental Health By The Numbers” NAMI.

Most of us who are suffering from a mental illness have spent our lives afraid to speak up, afraid to speak out because of this stigma.  We don’t want to be labeled as crazy, batty, looney or touched in the head.  We don’t want to pitied, or treated like we’re fragile, broken or damaged.  We don’t want to be doubted or forced to justify our own suffering and struggles in order to have them validated.  We don’t want to all be painted with the same broad brush, treated as both a criminal and a joke because we are mentally ill.

When we speak up, speak out and declare we’ve had enough of the stigma, it isn’t making mountains out of mole hills or crying out for attention.  It is an amazingly huge thing.  It is one of us speaking out that we can no longer suffer in silence, struggling alone to fight our illness.  It is one of us finally accepting that we are not broken, flawed, damaged or mental as society has made us feel our entire lives.  It is us saying “I will no longer allow anyone else to make me feel ashamed of my illness”.  It is one of us stepping up and saying “I am NOT my mental illness and I WILL NOT let it beat me!”.  It is us speaking out, hoping to add our voice to the collective, hoping to be a force for change because we don’t want our children, and our children’s children to hide in the shadows, ashamed of their own diagnosis, afraid to speak out and ask for help.

I am both extremely proud and grateful to each and every person who has faced the stigma head on and found the strength to speak out about their own struggles.  Please never doubt that your words have mattered or carried any weight because for each of us that speaks up, there is someone else still suffering in silence who needs that extra little bit of courage, to know they’re not alone and that others truly understand.  We need to be that voice of strength and to continue that chain until our voices one day can all shout in unison “ENOUGH!”  Never give up.  Never stop fighting.  We CAN make a difference.



mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 1/27/17.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Mental illness is the gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about.  It is that dirty secret that everyone knows but never openly acknowledges, instead whispering about it in dark corners where others cannot hear.  It has become an epidemic of catastrophic proportions, yet it is still regarded with fear because those who have never been there do not understand it and those who are suffering have been beaten down so badly by their inner demons that they often no longer have the will to speak up.

The mentally ill are stigmatized by society and the media to believe there is a great indignity and shame in our diagnosis.  Those with mental illnesses are looked upon as broken, damaged, looney, flawed, crazy and mental.  We have become a joke.  Worse yet, we are seen as dangerous, to ourselves and others.  Regardless of the broad range of mental illnesses, we are all painted with the same broad brush.

It doesn’t matter that mental illness has bona fide physical and genetic causations.  It is an invisible illness.  Since the pain cannot be seen, it is doubted.  We are treated like it must be all in our head.  We are told we should just try to be happy.  We are made out to be drama kings and queens, just looking for attention.  Though no one would dare to accuse a cancer patient of faking their pain or suggest someone with a broken leg just try walking, we’re left afraid to speak out because we don’t want to be judged or be forced to justify our pain worthy of validation.

It does not matter that millions of people suffer from some type of mental illness in their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being at the top of the list.  It doesn’t matter that it affects people all over the world from all walks of life.  Mental illness does not discriminate.  It affects the rich and the poor, people of all races, religions, ages, sexes and sexual orientations.  Even though mental illness is a global crisis, talking about it is still often taboo.

Anyone who doubts the far-reaching impact of mental illness today need only spend five minutes doing internet searches.  Take a look at larger sites that share stories of people faced with mental illness like The Mighty.  Every single day, dozens of new stories are posted by people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness.  Those are just the people who were brave enough to speak out that day and whose stories were chosen to be published.  A drop in the bucket.  Pick any large blogging site, such as this one WordPress, and do a search for “mental illness” or “depression”.  You could spend hours reading page upon page of personal stories and blogs written from the last couple weeks alone by people suffering themselves.  Celebrities are even beginning to come out more and more to say that they, too, are struggling and suffering from their own battles with mental illness.

And yet, those of us suffering still cling to that shame and that fear.  It has become so ingrained into our psyche that we pause each time we go to speak out, weighing the consequences.  Often we minimalize our suffering to avoid judgment or pity.  We don’t want pity.  We want, no we DESERVE applause for living through all that we have, struggling to get up, live and function each day while battling our own minds.

I have been called brave and inspirational for speaking out about my own journey and battles with mental illness.  I honestly feel neither brave nor inspirational.  Those of us who are speaking up are honestly fed up.  We are tired of suffering and struggling every single day.  Even more so, we are tired of seeing others walking that path, as well.  We can spot our own kind.  We know that empty, pained look hidden behind that too tight smile and those encouraging lies that you’re “hanging in there” and are alright.  Our heart goes out to each and every one of our kind we see because we’ve all walked that path and wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.

We speak up not thinking that we can change the world but because we are exasperated by it.  We cannot believe that anyone could stand in a field surrounded by landmines, denying their existence even as explosions ring out around them on all sides.  People are dying from this illness.  Lives are lost every single day.  Families are destroyed.  Millions of people are not faking this, hoping for attention.  It is an epidemic of global proportions.

I see stories and comments every day on social media that turn my stomach.  Stories of mothers losing children because they fell through the cracks of the mental healthcare system and died.  The truth is that the mental healthcare system as a whole in this country is broken and flawed.  There are so many people suffering that facilities and agencies do not have the manpower to handle it all.  The laws and regulations surrounding many aspects of mental healthcare are outdated and archaic.  Mental hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and have become corrals and waystations in many cases, where people are held until other options can be found.  Drugs are being pushed in many cases above therapy and treatment.  People are falling through the cracks.

I see stories about violent crimes being committed by people with a history of mental illness, followed by an outcry about the need to lock up the mentally ill for the safety of all others, and to take away some of our basic rights because of the actions of a select few.  It does not matter that studies have shown that those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators.  The fact that some mentally ill people have been violent apparently means that we are all dangerous, loaded guns just waiting to go off.

I see stories about celebrities killing themselves after losing a lifelong battle with their own minds.  There’s such compassion in those brief moments after a beloved icon has died.  Yet it is fleeting.  It leaves me bewildered because when the average person shares their own struggles, they are faced with judgment and stigma.  If a larger than life entity has suffered, it must be true and it is heartbreaking.  The rest of the populace, however, must be faking it.

I see ignorant comments suggesting that the rise in mental health diagnosis has to do with it’s increased presence in the media, as if people are choosing to be mentally ill because it is trendy.  The truth is that people are hearing more and more about mental illness in the media because more and more people are getting fed up of being lost in the system, fed up of being treated like they are crazy and broken, fed up of struggling and suffering every single day.  We need help.  Society says the squeaky wheel gets the grease so we’re ready to squeak, scream and yell if that’s what it takes to get help.

There is hope, though.  More and more people are speaking up, adding their voices to the collective.  Some celebrities are braving the stigma, as well, hoping their faces and names might bring added attention to the cause.  We are beginning to get organized, to create a unified front and to stand together and fight.  We have a very real chance to make a difference together and to see real change.  We must be diligent, though, and keep speaking out.  Do not fall silent.  Do not give in or give up.  This is a battle worth fighting and one we can win if we maintain our united front.

Enough with the stigma.  Enough with the judgment.  We are tired of suffering, of struggling, of crying out and receiving little to no help.  We are tired of fighting the system and society.  We are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, co-workers, bosses, teachers, classmates and friends.  We are millions strong.  We deserve to be heard.  We deserve to be helped.  We deserve to be healthy.

Whenever there is an epidemic facing even a portion of the world, people rise up in droves to help resolve the situation and help those suffering regain their lives with dignity and compassion.  Mental illness has become an epidemic on a global scale.  Stop pretending it doesn’t exist because you cannot see it.  Look around you.  Truly look.  Look at the tears in our eyes.  Look at the gravestones in our cemeteries.  Mental illness is real.  It needs to be addressed.  We all cannot keep living this way.


Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/25/16.


Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/26/16.


Republished via The Mighty at The Inner Battle on 11/13/16.