Things I Can’t Stand: Mental Illness edition/Watch Your Mouth!

Ok, this is going to be a brief post.  It sums up two of the “Lost Posts” from my phone.

Over the last 6 months, things have come into focus for me when it comes to my health.  For me some things have become more important, some less.  Some things hit closer to home than they used to.  And some things make me really angry.

To borrow a phase: “Don’t make me angry…..you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” (with all due respect to Bill Bixby and Mark Ruffalo

I’m not going to say that I wish people would stop using the term “crazy” as an insult or a description for some people – it’s still a word that works for those purposes.  There are some words we don’t use in general to describe groups of people anymore, because they are hurtful.  I’m sure you can think of a few – and of some that were added to that “Don’t Say That List” in your own lifetime.  Crazy is not one of them.

Having said that, I do wish the media and the like would use “mentally ill” instead.  Although that’s a tricky one, since ‘mentally ill’ encompasses a wide range of people.  According to some studies, as many as 1 in 3 people will suffer from chronic depression (or worse) in their life time.  So the term would still get used all the time – but at least it would be a more correct term than saying ‘He’s crazy’, I guess.

What I want to address is this:  I need people to be more careful about who we label as “Bi-Polar” or ‘manic depressive’.

I’m listening to a song called “That’s All She Wrote” by TI (and Eminem) where the phrase “you’re already bi-polar!” is used as an insult explaining why someone wouldn’t buy someone a teddy bear.  See what they did there?  Polar = Bear!  HAHAHA!! Funny! – PLEASE NOTE: THE LINK IS TO A NON EDITED VERSION OF THE SONG.  NOT “CLEAN”

Or not.  Or hurtful to the young people who hear the song.  Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think terms getting used like that doesn’t help a young person who is struggling to either get treatment, or accept that they actually are bi-polar.  In my personal experience with this sort of issue, things like that only reinforce the incredibly real stigma’s associated with mental illness in kids – not to mention adults. Studies have shown that 2 million Americans alone struggle with bi-polarTwo million! A recent study showed a 40 fold increase in bi-polar diagnoses in the last 10 years.  Of course, a large amount of those cases would be due to better diagnostic results, and awareness.  When I was a child, you wouldn’t even have thought to diagnose an adolescent or child with a mental illness like bi-polar.  It just didn’t happen.  I was lucky enough to get the ADHD diagnosis early enough that the system was able to help me as early as elementary school.

The point is that as many as 1 in 4 people suffer (mostly in silence) with a mental illness.  I believe very strongly that when you have such numbers of people struggling with something, the media and Hollywood should do their best to be fair and evenhanded in their treatment of that group.

Which brings me to the hardest part of this to explain, and to do so without sounding like an idiot…….

Recent events relating to school shootings have brought “Bi-polar People” into the spotlight, which really sucks.  One of the shooters, whose name I will not mention, was identified by the national media during the massacre as being bi-polar. Which, honestly, was the LAST thing I wanted to hear about that bastard during a massacre.  One instance, one word, and my personal mission became much more clear.  The whole flipping reason I’m doing this is to help spread the word about what bi-polar is and isn’t, while doing it in everyday “common man” terms.  I want to make sure people who have bi-polar know that it’ll be ok, and I want to let people who don’t have it know that we aren’t all crazy as hell and can lead normal, productive lives.  In most cases, unless the person is open about it (like me) you wouldn’t even know that the person you were talking to has bi-polar.  Most of us don’t take medications to work, or talk about their issues, or (ahem) blog about it a bit.  Most of us just blend in, and go about our business.  We go to the doctor from time to time, and when we’re healthy, we just “fit it” around the rest of the population.

The key is being healthy. The majority of us who have a diagnosis are trying to get or stay healthy, according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and the NIMH. The young man who shot up a school community does not represent that majority of patients.  He represents a psychopath who snapped – his mental health diagnosis (which seems to have been accurate) really doesn’t change that fact.  He’s a monster, who did monstrous things.  The vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent, psychopathic criminals.

News media, don’t you DARE lump us all together.  That’s not fair to the majority, and it does them a disservice.  And by focusing even for 1 hour on a monsters mental health diagnosis, you began to do so.  I realize that you needed to collectively mention the diagnosis, because it’s “scary” to the general population, it ensures that the monster was “different” and “not one of us”.  At least, that’s what I personally heard when I heard the media focusing on the diagnosis.

You know what I didn’t see (if it happened, I missed it)? I didn’t see any time devoted to discussing bi-polar disorder and the treatment options. I didn’t hear a peep about the numbers of people who are identified as bi-polar at all, or any discussion of how the illness is growing in our country, and has been since we got better at identifying it in the 1990’s.  That would have actually been responsible.  Balance the initial fear mongering with some more in-depth reporting after the immediate emergency had died down.  You know, like the next night or the night after.  I’m not minimizing the impact or necessity of reporting tragedies in the immediate – I’m drawing attention to the lack of follow-up AFTER the emergency.

Basically, what I heard was “demonize ALL mentally ill patients because this one shot up a school.  They’re different, their ALL dangerous, etc.”  Again, I’m not saying the monster who shot up that school WASN’T mentally ill, and in need of better help. Hell, maybe if he had better help, he wouldn’t have ended up where he did. I’d certainly like to think so.  But what I’m saying is that his diagnosis was a small part of the problem, and that focusing on it paints the picture that all bi-polar patients are potentially dangerous, and need to be “tracked in a database.”

I am trying my damnedest to keep this blog clean, and reader friendly.  And this might offend some people, but I still need to say it. To the people who thing we need a national mental illness database which makes public people’s identities, address, and diagnosis, I would say this:

YOU CAN GO TO HELL IF YOU SERIOUSLY THINK THAT WOULD BE EFFECTIVE.

Ask yourself this:  if your son or daughter was diagnosed as bi-polar, but (like the vast majority of the patients) was not violent, anti social, or acting out in any way, would you want their name on some kind of list of patients? I would think the vast majority of you would examine your hearts and say “No, not my kid.  That would be a list of the “bad” bi-polar people.”  And i would say define “bad” and tell me how that’s going to be done.  It’s not.  What it is is a witch hunt.  And we’re supposed to be better than that.

To conclude this I would plead for more caution in how we use terms in entertainment.  Regular people: Think about the kids who just got diagnosed, and imagine their position if we’ve made bi-polar, mentally ill, or even crazy into something to be ashamed of.  Imagine if that was your son, or your daughter.  Please try to be better, and set good examples for your own (non diagnosed) kids.  Kids can be cruel as hell, as can young adults.

Newsmedia:  Be more careful with how you cover mental illness.  Be responsible.  Draw attention not just to the negatives, but do some research into the processes and the (potential) positives of a diagnoses.  Manic depressive patients are often incredibly creative people, capable of beautiful works of art, literature, and song.  And of course, it’s been noted recently that quite a few of our countries hero’s were/are mentally ill, including Abraham Lincoln.  He was believed to be bi-polar, and he turned out OK, didn’t he?

Kids/new patients reading this:  I try to remember to mention this in every post, even angry ones like this.  You are amazing, beautiful and strong people.  You do not need to feel as if you are different, or set yourself apart from your peers.  Please do not hide from what we are, please get help, and please don’t let your diagnosis define you.  I did all of those things as a young person.  I took medication EVERY DAY at school, through the school nurse. And I hated it.  I let it define what and who I was for FAR to long.  As an adult, I took almost 10 years to come to grips with the every day nature of my diagnosis.  It hurt me in more ways I can remember, and cost me my education, friends, jobs, and my sanity.

PLEASE DO NOT DO WHAT I DID.  You have nothing to be ashamed of.  Get your help, take your medication, and then go out and dominate the damn world.  Go out and take it.

Run the world.  It needs you.

If you need me, feel free to hit me up on twitter @therealkparsons or send me an email: GetBetterBeBetter@gmail.com

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