Stephen Fry, being a hero.
Okay. Sure. I’ll write this. I’ll be that guy.
Mental illness is something that America at large can’t seem to handle. As Stephen Fry says in this snippet of interview:
“If you say to someone you’re asthmatic or diabetic they don’t go ‘Oh, oh yeah. Oh goodness.’ But if you say ‘I’m bipolar,’ there is a little look that can flicker in their eyes, and it’s tricky.”
Only, it goes much deeper than that. Mental illness isn’t something that America dislikes or tries desperately to ignore. America does that with political corruption, corporate mega-monopolies, and war crimes. No, mental illness is something deeper. It’s something much more systemic.
Think about the first thing you hear whenever a shooting has occurred. There were seventy-fucking-four school shootings in the 18 months after the shootings in Sandy Hook, so there were at least those to hear about. Then add in the others that occurred at malls, movie theaters, and Wal-Mart parking lots. What is the first thing we hear?
“The shooter is believed to have been a schizophrenic/bipolar patient. Now, over to Wolf Blitzer, who has [Americanized Name] from the [Some kind of Gun Advocacy/Control Group] to talk about guns in America.”
We can’t even accept that mass shooters are potential mental patients. Why does every mass shooting always focus on the NRA? Who gives a flying fuck about the NRA? Students are being shot, innocent civilians are being killed, and we’re debating with Ted Nugent about pistols? Why don’t we take the time to have a reasonable discussion about the mental health culture in this nation?
Consider something else. PTSD. We’re going to go with very obvious, observable cases for this article. According to Veteransandptsd.com, using information from major studies by the RAND Corporation and the Congressional Research Service, the Veterans Administration, and the US Surgeon General, nearly four out of five Vietnam vets interviewed 20-25 years after the war reported recent PTSD symptoms, with anywhere from 4 – 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans reporting PTSD symptoms. Among the Iraq and Afghanistan war vets, only about half get help and only half of those get adequate treatment. According to this piece from 2012 in the New York Times, as of June 8, 2012 there were upwards of one soldier suicide per day for the year. That number has only gotten worse, with 1,892 having committed suicide between January 1, 2014 and March 27, 2014. That is 22 suicides a day. A day. One every hour or so.
I’ll ask again. What in the fuck is wrong with us?
There are other problems. Alcoholism. Drug abuse. Homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, somewhere between 20 and 25% of homeless people are mentally ill, compared to the overall rate of 6% for Americans.
Hell, what about unemployment? According to the linked article, “Sixty-one percent of working age adults with mental health disabilities are outside of the labour force, compared with only 20% of working-age adults in the general population.” That means that while 1/5 of working aged adults are expected to be outside of the labor force (that’s science speak for unemployed), 3/5 of mentally ill people of working age are unemployed. That’s an increase of 200%.
Going further, “Employment rates also vary by diagnostic group from 40 to 60% for people reporting a major depressive disorder to 20-35% for those reporting an anxiety disorder.” So hurray, if you “only” have an anxious disorder, you’re in luck! Only 35% of your brethren are unemployed, unlike those loser major depressives. Boo. And no one tell the schizophrenics, who are nearly 80-90% unemployed.
This is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers openly admit that they are less likely to, meaning they won’t, hire someone with a mental illness or past addiction. That article is a revealing light into the world of mental patients, and it outlines the effects of the mental illness stigma better than I ever could. As Medscape points out, this stigma is keeping people from getting treated. People would rather live with the statistically assured suicide than see a doctor or seek treatment, because America hates mental illness.
This is patently despicable, and America doesn’t care. They’re too busy worrying about abortion than they are the schizophrenics who need treatment. They’re too busy worrying about government corruption that won’t go away to look at their depressed friend and actually worry. They’re too worried about finding some war across the ocean to win to think about the rate of suicides in this country.
The one thing I consistently see from very smart people like Stephen Fry or Elyn R. Saks is that we have to fight the stigma. One of the easiest ways is to put a face on the illnesses. The more people realize that PTSD has a face, and it’s the face of their best friend, the more people will realize that PTSD is a thing.
I have a friend that is a Bipolar patient. He has Bipolar Disorder Type II, rapid-cycling. He gets super ultra depressed, and his manic episodes are more “I can write a million pages” than they are “I’m a God among men.” Patients with his type of Bipolar Disorder are much more likely to commit suicide, as they get all of the major depression with very little of the hypermania.
He also has PTSD that stems from childhood trauma. He is in his mid-20’s, and he still cries when hes hear his mom and step-dad fighting. He has to sleep in his closet some days, because that is where he is most comfortable.
He has generalized anxiety disorder, which manifests as paranoia and a sincere and incredibly inconvenient fear of the dark. He hasn’t been able to give blood in four years because his pulse is consistently too high. His pulse is consistently too high because he’s consistently afraid. His doctors take his pulse and heart rate when he walks in, then they repeat it fifteen minutes later during the patient history/physical evaluation. Voila, his heart rate and pulse are always lower once he’s calm and talking to a doctor.
He also couldn’t get a job at any local store, even Walmart, when he was honest on his job applications and disclosed his Bipolar Disorder. He was a college student looking to work part time, then he was a full-blown college graduate who couldn’t get a job as a cashier. Then he forgot to disclose his Bipolar Disorder, and holy shit. He got a job for the winter.
This isn’t a stigma just for unmedicated dangers to society. Even the heroes among us who have dealt with their symptoms, seen past the voices and the depression and the debilitating illness and got medication, are rendered lesser. Deranged. Violent.
America would rather pretend it has a gun problem then an easily confronted mental health one. Why argue 2nd Amendment rights when we can do so much more good by admitting that our cumulative hatred of mental illness is killing us? Why are we arguing the virtues of a war started through lies and deception when the pressing concern is the thousands of veterans who are killing themselves every year? We’re still caught up on the idea that President Bush and Congress at large lied to us. Prime Minister Netanyahu lied to the United Nations. But unless we’re willing to try them for war crimes and perjury, why aren’t we more worried about those poor souls we sent over and want to come back like nothing ever happened?
The answer’s simple. We don’t have enough faces on the disorders. We have vague generalities and a few celebrities that are great, but are too rich and well-off to seem like one of us. Why deal in abstract concepts of mental illness when we can drown it all out with moral outrage at President Obama or calls to demolish the NRA?
My friend up above? I could never reveal his name, even if he wanted me to, because I couldn’t be party to that. I couldn’t hinder his life goal to teach one day. I couldn’t be the one to send a post out to the Internet that said “Hey everyone, he’s someone else you can hate for having a little extra.” He wants nothing more than to help people, to teach, and maybe get a family going someday. But America will hate him the minute he’s even approaching something called “honest.”
Unless he’s rich. Then holy shit, he’s a “success story!” Until then, you’re a failure, and America has no use for you.
Please, do what you can to help those around you to feel more open about their mental health. If you or someone you know asks for or obviously needs help, take the steps necessary to get it. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And whatever you do, don’t let people cloud the issue or spread false wives tales. Fight fear with facts, and maybe some good will start to happen.
Use Stephen Fry as an example. Lead the charge. Do some good for your fellow man, and make the world a better place.