Hays: Battling the stigma of mental health issuesWritten by Pam Hays | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I didn’t plan on writing about suicide and mental health this month, but I saw the death of Robin Williams and how I see his death as a teaching moment about our military and veterans, I decided to change subjects. Robin was a brilliant comedian, though personal tastes may differ on some of his content and the way his life was lived, it is a strong consensus that he was a genius of comedic improv!
Though I was well aware that he had mental health and substance abuse issues, from what I read now in comments on social media, many people were not aware of the darkness in Robin’s life. The passing of Robin is getting International attention, and understandably so, but many in the veteran community are upset or confused that the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide in our country are not ever given much attention by the media, and most individual’s stories are never told.
I understand their frustration as my passion is to drive down stigma connected with invisible wounds and that includes mental health issues as well as traumatic brain injury.
But I believe almost any opportunity to create more awareness through conversation in the public about what are referred to as “invisible wounds” is welcomed.
It is difficult to grab the attention of the masses in our society about any subject matter with the overwhelming amount of information thrown out from every direction. And, when the attention does go to a subject, there is another catastrophe or topic that is deemed newsworthy and attention is quickly diverted. I wish that every military member who died from suicide received a headline.
I wish that every military veteran who struggled beyond measure and lost any semblance of hope in their life would be honored for their place in life, but not glorified in death by suicide as maybe some are doing with Robin Williams.
There is no glory in taking your own life. Suicide is dark. Suicide is empty. Suicide is never the answer. But, what is the answer? I wrote about the “mask” of invisible wounds and hiding our true selves a few months back. As much as many thought they knew this iconic comedian, he wore a mask that allowed him to portray himself as someone who was not struggling. He showed glimpses of his true self when he would speak of his drug and alcohol abuse, or the demons, as he put it, that he had inside. But the mask was almost always present in Robin’s life.
The inner world of his pain was hidden from the public that adored the funny guy and maybe the mask prevented him from taking advantage of all the help available to him.
Living in denial is never healthy. We all put on our masks in some way on most days, but until you have lived with mental health illness yourself, or loved someone who has, you might not fully comprehend the battles of denying your true self every day.
You might not understand what it is like to watch television and listen to your “unprotected class” of people being ridiculed by the language and situations that our world still finds acceptable. Words like lunatic, looney bin, the crazies, insane asylum, and others that cut into the spirits of those who are trying to live with a disease; one that does not emote the feelings of caring and empathy like breast cancer, heart disease etc.
People struggling with mental health disease don’t have the benefit in our country of “being accepted for who they are”. Sure some do, but I am talking about a broad overview of how we treat, mistreat, interact with, talk about or portray those with mental health issues. Stigma breeds in society like an out of control virus and is the “connected” disease that stops many from fully removing the mask.
Not all that are homeless have mental health disease. Not all that have mental health disease are homeless. Not all have alcohol or substance abuse problems. But all are our fellow human beings. All of us have the possibility to walk in their shoes; we are not above having mental health issues ourselves.
In a given year, one in four Americans will be challenged with a mental health problem and 1 in 17 will have what is called a serious mental health disorder.
Each of us can do something to combat the stigma that makes the mask a necessity for so many.
Pam Hays is president and founder of The Arms Forces, www.thearmsforces.org; (419) 891-2111.