I have grown up around mental illness as a reality in my life. My mother is mentally ill, and as a child/teen, I had to grow up fast and learn to accept the responsibilities of a child with a mentally ill mom. Granted, my perceptions were still young, and I thought faking being sick so I could stay home with my mom would keep her from attempting suicide. This is not rational because it also meant I believed if she did attempt suicide and I was not home with her, it would be my fault. This is how I, as a child viewed the struggle, until I fell apart myself. Then I realized that no one could necessarily have an affect on a truly suicidal or heavily depressed individual. The care these individuals require goes beyond what can be provided at home.
I went through my own bouts of depression, and now, my son is mentally ill. He has many illnesses, and it is very difficult to care for him sometimes. What surprises me is the way in which society still marginalizes mental illness sufferers as though this minority group’s needs are not important. People with mental illness are still treated differently and others make wild assumptions about them. Last I checked, this group of individuals is actually pretty large. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.6% of U.S. adults have some form of mental illness. This is nearly 1/5 of U.S. Adults. How can individuals continue to judge the mentally ill when they take various faces and are all around you. These people are homeless, wealthy, middle class, poor, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, and any other descriptive word you can throw in there. They are teachers, doctors, police officers, cashiers, taxi drivers, friends, co-workers, family, and acquaintances.
On many occasions when I have had to relay my sons story for the millionth time to a new doctor or facility, I have had to deal with the judgmental insinuations that our family must be messed up. Our family is broken at times, but it is because we struggle to handle the mental illness while living our lives. The mental illness came first. Even if we did have family problems, why should others judge us? What should be more common is empathy. Our family hurts, we struggle, we fear the future for our son, and we care for one another. We are a family who needs help because mental illness has intruded on our lives. We deserve to have treatment without judgement.
The college student who is cutting herself to erase her pain, the high school girl who starves herself to have control, the men and women who struggle to survive from growing up in abusive homes, the soldiers who come home with PTSD, the people who develop schizophrenia, the people with chemical imbalances, the woman on the bridge jumping to forget the rape she endured. These are all people who are suffering, and they should not be treated as less than human or with a lack of dignity. Why is mental illness scrutinized so gravely, and why are others so quick to judge? Why is it so difficult to find help? Why is insurance for mental illness so limited? Why can’t we, as a collective group of people, demand change? Why, as a leading industrialized country, can we not care for the people who need help with the compassion they deserve?
Obviously, things need to change. I find that caring for a mentally ill child is a caregiving role that is exhaustive. It is a 24/7 job that requires a lot of work, patience, appointments, medications, and vigilance. I am tired of the prejudice, the assumptions, and the lack of resources. I also know many who need help go without it because of shame, lack of understanding, lack of insurance, and fear. We need to change the perception of mental illness now, and become advocates for the mentally ill. We should never allow people to suffer in silence. Mental illness is real and it is prevalent. It is time to wake up America!