Call Me Crazy—Or Don't (Mental Health Series pt. 1)
Call Me Crazy
We’ve all got that “Crazy Aunt Betty” who talks to dust bunnies or that clowning uncle who always has a bit too much to drink at the family reunion. We’ve all seen people walking down the street alone, waving their arms, apparently in a heated discussion with no one in particular. (Of course, this was easier to spot before the advent of Bluetooth ear pieces!) We recognize that those people may be dealing with some mental health issues.
But how about the quiet girl sitting in the corner of the coffee shop with her ear buds in, angled toward the wall. She has ADHD but you would never know that to look at her (Okay, she’s me.). Or the bespectacled professor at the front of the classroom with his perfectly tied bowtie; You’d never know he has a thirty-point checklist of things he has to do every time he leaves his house—and that’s better than he used to be with his OCD. Often mental health issues can be hidden to all but those who are very close to the person struggling. I know most people would never guess I’ve dealt with depression, ADD and even some anxiety. I mask it well, most of the time. But it’s still a very real issue I’ve had to deal with.
You’ve probably heard the words, “That’s insane!” or “She’s got to be crazy.” Most of us say these things innocently—lightly. But the problem is that mental health isn’t something we can take lightly anymore. We see the effects of mental illness on the “breaking news” ticker daily. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee going off on a rampage, a bullied loner opening fire on his classmates, or a well-known celebrity ending her life, these things affect our world regularly and most of the time the roots of these stories are buried deep in the world of mental health.
What is Mental Health?
Mental Health is fairly easy to define. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”(1).
Easy to define but much harder to achieve. Just as physical health is a moving target—we have good days (weeks) and bad days—so is mental health. Neither are static. But when we are in poor physical health, no one suggests we will be in that state forever. No one writes us off as unstable or untrustworthy because we have a hyperactive thyroid or our leg in a cast. People bring over dinners and send get well cards—okay texts—when we have a physical illness.
Yet the stigma around mental illness is so strong that too many people are afraid to talk about it for fear they’ll be written off as mentally unstable and never taken seriously again. (I'll admit was a little scared to mention my own struggles earlier in this post. I hesitated.) Sadly, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the most important thing I know about mental illness is that it requires support. I imagine there are rare exceptions, but the majority of us require some outside assistance to recover from whatever is afflicting us mentally. And if we don’t get that help, we may suffer for much longer than is necessary, those around us will suffer, and people will likely begin to write us off as difficult or too stubborn or just plain bitchy.
Why do we need to talk about this?
I think it’s extremely important to talk about mental health and mental illness. Hiding it helps no one. In my family—some related by blood and others by marriage—people have quietly dealt with various mental health issues over the years. Some have been aware and others not so much. With one degree of separation (meaning I either know—or am—one of these people or one of my family members knows/knew the affected family member), these are the mental illnesses or disorders I know of in my family (this covers about five generations):
- Anxiety (I list this first because it is by far the most common in my extended family)
- Depression (number two spot—the rest are in no particular order)
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Bi-polar (Manic Depressive)
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Impulse Control/Addictive Behavior Disorder (AKA self-medicating for above disorders)
This is not an exhaustive list. It’s just what I can come up with off the top of my head. Jeez. That’s kind of scary, isn’t it? The thing is, I know I’m not alone. I know that if most of you did some digging you might find a similar laundry list has been hanging on your family tree. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m going to say that again. It’s Nothing To Be Ashamed Of.
Honesty and Vulnerability
This is the first in a series on Mental Health/Mental Illness. If we’re going to have healthy discourse about this topic—if we’re going to expect people to be honest and vulnerable about their struggles—we have to fight against the stigma associated with mental health issues. We do that with honesty. If we are going to help each other move toward enduring mental health, we need to stop hiding and start talking. That’s what I’m going to be doing here, in this space. Next week I’ll intro the different categories of Mental Disorders and deal specifically with Mood Disorders (ie. Depression, Bi-Polar, etc.) and each week I’ll spotlight a new category of Disorders.
I’d love your feedback if there are any particular issues you’d like me to bring up. Please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me here.
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