Mental Health Awareness Month

By Joseph Merlin Bowers

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I cringe every time I hear the term mental health when someone is referring to mental “illness.”

First of all, I don’t care if anyone is aware of mental health. I want everyone to be aware of mental illness. What does the term mental health mean anyway? We all have mental health of varying types and degrees. The estimated four percent of the population with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are among the most shunned, discriminated against neglected demographics of our society.

Roughly half don’t even know they have a disease. Mental illnesses are the only diseases I know of that often make you think you are not sick. Psychotic people, sick people who lack awareness, people with treatment resistant bipolar disorder and people with serious depression are among those who need a mental illness awareness month.

I also object to the idea of less menacing or shameful terms like health instead of illness, consumer instead of someone who is mentally ill and NAMI’s insistence that no one use the term “crazy.” I’ve been crazy many times in my life. If I object to the use of this term by others to describe these times, I am acknowledging that there is something shameful about being crazy. I wasn’t ashamed when  I got prostate cancer. Why should I be ashamed when I got psychotic?

I’ve done things when psychotic that I deeply regret but nothing that I’m ashamed of. I know these things were done because of an illness not because of any lack of character or morality or criminality.

My other objection to mental “health” awareness week is what I see as an attempt to highlight the high functioning in recovery at the expense of those who are really ill, really in trouble and really need help. People with untreated or treatment resistant mental illnesses are more dangerous to themselves or others and more helpless than most. They don’t need to be shunned or ignored. They need to be helped before tragedy occurs.

Serious mental illnesses kill just as surely as if they were cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ALS, HIV or any other type of disease. There are massive, popular campaigns to fight these diseases. We don’t even call mental illness what it is. Where is our ice bucket challenge to fight serious mental illness?  It affects a lot more people than ALS does.

Like most demographics that are discriminated against, crazy people are discriminated against because of fear and ignorance. Let’s have a mental “illness” awareness month to spread awareness and illumination and dispel fear and ignorance.

 

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5 thoughts on “Mental Health Awareness Month

  1. Your incite that the things you did while psychotic were not about moral character but about illness really helps me keep that perspective with a loved one. Thankyou

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  2. I wrote this as a letter to the editor of the st louis post dispatch ,i believe in 2011. Oct 7-13 is mental illness awareness week.Yes i said mental illness not mental health.We all agree being emotionally healthy is a good thing,but i am talking about the most severe and persistent mental illness.Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is an illness linked to structural and chemical changes in the brain. Medical treatment and supportive therapies help. Discrimination is wrong. Yes thats right.Persons with Schizophrenia are actually physically ill.The illness affects the entire body but specifically affects the brain altering how a person sees,hears,and experiences the world.It has been described as dreaming while awake.The experience is so authentic to the person that he or she believes it is real. it can even prevent the person from recognizing they are ill.It is no ones fault.does not derive from dysfunctional families,is not a myth.It affects 2.2million Americans in any given year.There are at least as many persons with schizophrenia who are homeless as there are in hospitals.Much still needs to be discovered.We cannot wait for exact answers when we know what helps in the interim to make a concerted difference. Its not rocket science.If medical treatment is sustained.supportiveservices are in place.a major catastrophe can.in many instances be reduced to a minimized disability. How do i know this? I have a front row seat. My family(siblings)are still living with schizophrenia. When history is written of the plight of persons with schizophrenia it will be nothing short of a national scandal. Can you name another physical illness .lets say pneumonia where persons weak.coughing,delirious from fever,wandered our streets like urban gargoyles, unable to get respect,housing,medical treatment? But if you went to that person.gave them refuge.fluids,antibiotics,they would get better. This is also true for the person with schizophrenia. If you walk gently alongside,assist to access housing,medical treatment,affirm their courage,they too will begin to recover a life. It should be understood because schizophrenia attacks the very essence of a person,there is a certain fragilness and recoverin a life becomes a work in progress. Uncertainty can creep in so this is where encouragment to stay the course makes all the difference. Across this nation we are going back to the late 1800’s as states continue the obscene practice of balancing budgets on the backs of our most endangered citizens as they cut public services,close psychiatric beds. Very physically ill people are forced to live on the street, in jails,under bridges. This is outrageous. Please tell your legislators that you want our fellow citizens with severe mental illness to be treated with respect,have access to housing,medical treatment and a caring community.

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