Tag Archives: mental illness

Having Fun Does Not Include Making Fun of Others

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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.

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World Mental Health Day

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In support of #WorldMentalHealthDay, which falls today, October 10, I’d like to point out a few things.

1) It’s encouraging to see countries finally starting to realize that mental health is not a stigma, but a bona fide disease. In Canada, for example, 20% of us Canucks will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetime.

2) Kudos to Bell Canada through its Let’s Talk campaign, and its spokesperson, Olympic champion Clara Hughes, for making this a subject of national conversation here North of 49. Since its launch in 2010, the initiative has raised more than $50 million, and plans to raise at least $100 million for mental health-related projects by 2020

3) Here in Toronto, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is playing a hugely positive role in addressing this issue and subsequently treating the disease to the best of its ability. Of course, places such as CAMH could always use more funding – especially private donations – but despite  allegations from someone south of the border whose skin tone matches his man rug, Canada’s healthcare system (and by extension its mental healthcare system) is not “catastrophic,” nor do we head en masse to the U.S. for medical treatment annually. (In a comprehensive study of 18,000 men and women that was published in the journal Health Affairs, 0.005% of Canadians received medical care in the U.S. based on a recommendation from their doctor, while a mere 0.001% did so of their own volition.)

4) There are a million and one scholarly books on the subject of mental health, yet there are also a number of down-to-earth fiction/non-fiction works on the subject, too. Goodreads.com has a pretty long list of books shelved as mental-health, with some of the top-rated ones (in alphabetical order by title) being the following: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks, Impulse (Impulse #1) by Ellen Hopkins, Equating the Equations of Insanity: A Journey from Grief to Victory by Durgesh Satpathy, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

(P.S. Many of these same writers are what are known as “Goodreads Authors,” meaning they often hold chat sessions with readers in real-time through goodreads.com, and sometimes even take personal emails to talk about their work(s).)

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A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

Sometimes a title says it all. Remember Columbine? The precursor to names like Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, Columbine still remains the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Although nearly 17 years have passed since that awful day when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their school and killed 12 fellow students and one teacher, injuring 21 others along the way, April 20, 1999 is “a date which will live in infamy” (to quote FDR). For it was on that morning that far too many people had their lives irrevocably changed and the world watched in horror as the unthinkable happened: kids killing kids en masse.

Sue Klebold, the mother of 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, recently published a memoir called A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Its focus is not so much about the carnage itself, but about teenage angst, depression, and suicide. Carlos Lozada at The Washington Post summed up the book well when he wrote:

Reading this book as a critic is hard; reading it as a parent is devastating….I imagine snippets of my own young children in Dylan Klebold, shades of my parenting in Sue and Tom.  I suspect that many families will find their own parallels….This book’s insights are painful and necessary and its contradictions inevitable.

While many, including Michael Moore through his documentary Bowling for Columbine, tend to focus on the gruesome nature of the attack itself, the proliferation of guns, and the high homicide rate in the U.S., Sue Klebold addresses what is arguably a more immediate question for societies everywhere: How do we deal with the psychological turmoil teens experience around the world and what can be done to address this vital social  issue which touches us all, almost like cancer does, either directly or indirectly through family members and loved ones?

Unbeknownst to a lot of us, there are more than 38,000 suicides in America every year, making it the second leading cause of death for those 15-34 years of age. Compare that to the roughly 12,000 homicides that take place in the U.S. annually and you get an idea why someone like Sue Klebold, whose son killed himself at the end of the rampage, sees more than just gun control law problems when she looks back on Columbine.

While firearms account for the lion’s share of suicides in the United States, the fact that Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world (and No. 2 overall) and Japan has the third highest rate among OECD countries (and No. 17 overall) is further proof that guns are not the source of the problem when it comes to mental illness, by far and away the leading cause of suicides in the U.S.; they’re simply a quick means to an end.

Sadly – and I say this purely from an empathetic point of view because it’s abundantly clear that she is forever damaged emotionally and psychologically – there are still those who blame and hate the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. However, Sue Klebold didn’t let that stop her from describing her own living hell and what she hopes to do about it in a positive, beneficial way. Rather than personally benefit financially from the sale of her story, she is donating all profits from the book to research and charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

Let’s all pray that initiatives such as this can in some small measure help us as one global society come face to face with something that has been stigmatized and brushed under the carpet for far too long. Mental illness, depression, and suicide are very real and will not get any better until we find a way to help those in need with a more caring and constructive approach.

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