Sanity and mental illness lie on a spectrum, and most people occasionally cross over from one side to the other. It’s the proximity of mental illness rather than its obscurity that makes it so scary. But it should be scary in a “fix the broken care system” way or in a “figure out the brain’s biology” way, and not in a “scream for laughs” kind of way.
In a very poignant piece on mental health published recently in The New York Times, Andrew Solomon (@Andrew_Solomon) brings the lighthearted rhetoric of the current political malaise and common misperception about “crazy people” to the forefront in a way that is as engaging as it is educational.
Titled “Mental Health Is Not a Horror Show,” Solomon is not just the acclaimed author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, but is also a psychiatric patient and a professor of clinical psychology, so he knows of what he speaks. As he writes early in his piece:
I became severely, clinically depressed for the first time in 1994. I was unable to speak, unable to get out of bed, unable to function in the world, and I thought of suicide constantly. I was afraid all the time but didn’t know what I was afraid of; I was numb to my own emotions and stripped of vitality.
You can read the article for yourself, but I think Mr. Solomon does a brilliant job of tying in the current social climate with an issue many people have only recently started waking up to with any real empathy. I’ll let the author himself close this out:
Our nation is in a moment when prejudice runs riot. In this election season, assertions of strength have often overtaken moral righteousness in the public imagination; success has been posited as incompatible with empathy. That rejection of empathy is an authentic poison, pressing some people to understand themselves as less human than others, a danger associated with a proliferation of suicides. It’s hard to think well of yourself in a world that sees you as a threat.