As I sat down to write my blog for this week, I must admit that I found myself having a difficult time getting the words out onto the screen. I had planned on continuing with my From Lattes to Websites blog series that I started last Friday, but in light of some of the news this week, I just couldn’t help but feel like my discussion on Starbucks would be better for another day.
So what news is on my mind?
Well, if you haven’t heard already, two well-known figures, fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, died this week.
Now, neither of these people were particularly important to me. I didn’t care for Kate Spade’s designs, and I wasn’t a fan of Bourdain’s shows, but when it hit that both had died of apparent suicide, I couldn’t help but be deeply saddened and affected by the news. The death of a loved one, friend, or even just a distant acquaintance is painful enough, but to know that a person welcomed and desired death…well, that’s hard to understand and come to terms with. It’s difficult to not think, What could have been done differently? Why didn’t we see that he was in so much pain? How did it get to this point? There really are no good answers to those questions, and that’s what makes it all the more frustrating.
I know that one of the reasons why this is sitting on my mind so much is because, whenever a celebrity commits suicide, it always inspires conversation about mental health, and that is a topic that greatly concerns me.
I may have made some quick comments about my background as it relates to mental health on my social media pages, but to make it clear, mental illness has been and still is a major issue with me and my family. Depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse have spanned generations of my family tree and are very much passed down through genetics and persistent dysfunctional family behavior. In fact, mental illness has been such a consistent factor in my life, that for many years I thought that certain dysfunctional behavior and destructive thought patterns were completely normal in families and other relationships.
So when I see the conversation about mental health pick up during such times, I do feel excitement that we are finally talking about such a topic in public, but I must admit that I am eventually dismayed by it. I feel dismayed because, after the initial encouragement for struggling individuals to get help, not much else is said, revealing just how little mental health issues are understood by the population at large.
So with all that in mind, I wanted to spend a little time today to explain a few things about mental illness in hopes that it would provide better understanding as to what it is like to live with mental illness as well as what “getting help” actually requires. So to begin:
- Mental illness is hard to recognize. This statement seems pretty obvious considering how many people were shocked by the deaths of Spade and Bourdain, but what I’m really trying to get at is that recognizing mental illness in yourself is nearly impossible, at least not until the condition has progressed to very dangerous levels. There is so much denial and self-doubt involved with mental illness that it’s amazing anyone can get to the point of admitting that they need help, and even I’m guilty of this. I used to be one of those people encouraging others to get help, but I was completely oblivious to how much I needed it myself. Now, granted, it’s important to allay the stigma behind getting help (some people need the extra encouragement), but there is a second part to this that needs to be addressed.
- If someone is having suicidal thoughts, it’s dangerously late to be getting help. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that they can’t benefit from help and that they shouldn’t get help, but what I’m trying to get across here is that, unlike other physical ailments, there are no quick-acting pain killers to help alleviate the urge to commit suicide. While medication can help with serious conditions, they take time, sometimes even months, before the effects are noticeable. It’s like a bride wanting to lose weight before her wedding. If she holds off on exercising and dieting until the week before, there is no way that she is going to fit into a dress that is two sizes too small. It takes months of preparation and training, and it is no different for someone with mental illness. If you know someone with suicidal thoughts, the sooner they get help, the better.
- Things will get worse before they get better. I always had an image in my mind that once a person got to therapy or on medication for mental illness everything would just get better from that moment forward. I was so, so wrong. Mental illness affects behaviors and habits which in turn affects an individual’s ability to recognize reality, so once someone starts getting help, he or she is likely in for a massive shock. Events that were once thought of as just another day are going to be seen for the traumatic experiences that they were. Relationships that were once viewed as irreplaceable are going to be recognized as codependent and abusive. In other words, an identity crisis is likely. Also, changes that the individual may try to implement in his or her life may not be viewed as acceptable or may be seen as a threat by his or her family, friends, or lovers, and as a result, additional conflict is bound to arise. Eventually things even out, and the situation improves, but it takes a lot of time, effort, and endurance to get there.
- There are several ways to get help, and help is for everyone. This is kind of an odd phenomenon, but with all the mention of suicide hotlines, therapists, and medications, I think a lot of people see help as something that only people with serious mental illness need. That is not true at all. Everyone goes through tough times, and there is help out there for less serious but still difficult matters. Support groups of all kinds exist, and counselors are available for a variety of issues, not just major mental illness. Many employers provide EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) that are designed to help employees during difficult times as well. If you are struggling (financial troubles, fighting with a family member, feeling unfulfilled or worthless, someone died), you don’t have to struggle alone nor do you have to be ashamed about it. I’ll admit that this is something that I just recently learned, but healthy people, with healthy habits, thoughts, and coping mechanisms, don’t hesitate to get help when problems arise.
- The struggle doesn’t end by getting help, but the help will get you through the struggle. Recovery is a lifelong commitment, and mental illness is, for a majority of people, a chronic condition. As much as I would like to be completely free of my anxiety disorder, I doubt that will happen. The treatment may change as the periods of my life change, but considering my background and my genetics, I will likely need treatment in some way or another for the rest of my life. For many people, I know that probably sounds awful and exhausting, but just like someone with diabetes who takes insulin shots every day, the various treatments for mental illness do become habit eventually. Keep up with it, and the health will remain.
My understanding of mental illness is limited, but I do hope that the above points provide some additional perspective into the issues that affect many with mental illness, especially as it pertains to getting help. Mental health issues are not something that can be solved with a few platitudes on Twitter; there needs to be a continuous effort from everyone to ensure that mental health care is not just quality but accessible and understandable to all. Only then do I think we’ll see a decrease in the number of sad endings like those of Spade and Bourdain.
Thank you for taking the time to read through my very off-topic blog post. My heart goes out to the families of Spade and Bourdain. I know that this must be a very sad and confusing time for them.
The one and the only Pookachino