Tag Archives: mental illness

It’s Not Always A Mental Illness!

7 Jul

I have worked in the mental health field for twenty-three years. I know the terrain extremely well. And although I am grateful that public knowledge of mental illness has increased, I grow weary when I frequently hear every societal problem attributed to mental illness.

mental-health-month-mental-illness-statistics-01

Not everything is a mental illness!

Sometimes we’re distraught because we’re going through something tough. Perhaps a death in the family, a divorce, or job loss triggers a challenging period. Or maybe we’re anxious because we haven’t learned to manage stress well and we’re going through significant life changes without much social support. These types of things greatly influence mood state and to a certain degree are a regular part of life. Human beings suffer terribly and we are all challenged by how to develop resiliency.

I invite us to consider the concept of mental wellness. How do we learn to function whether we’re ever given a mental health diagnosis or not? We all need to address mental wellness no different than we look after our physical health.

Mental health exists along a continuum. It is comparable to physical health. For instance, if I have a runny nose, am fatigued, and don’t feel well, I meet the criteria for a cold. After two weeks, when the symptoms have cleared, I no longer have the diagnosis. But if I have diabetes or a heart condition, I might have the diagnosis my entire life and then I learn to manage the symptoms. Mental illness is no different. Sometimes we’re given a diagnosis at one point in our lives but later, we may no longer meet criteria. With another illness, the diagnosis might persist. Or, we may never meet criteria for a diagnosis. Nonetheless, we still need to develop basic coping skills and to manage our emotions and stress in a healthy manner.

Contrary to popular belief, mental illness isn’t the root cause of all sociological problems. It is actually the other way around. Sociological problems can put people at risk for developing mental illness. There are only a cluster of diagnoses whose etiologies are based in pure biology and genetics. More often than not, mental illnesses emerge from a combination of factors such as trauma, genetic predisposition, environment, social isolation, family dynamics, relationship ruptures, abandonment, and abuse, etc.

If we want to reduce mental illness statistics, we also need to address bigger cosmic factors that contribute to it. We have to stop pointing fingers at “mental illness” as the cause for all and start looking at the impact of how we treat our fellow humans. TLC goes a long way in influencing mental wellness. So does social justice.

On the same token, just because we have risk factors doesn’t mean we’ll develop a mental illness. Likewise, even if we aren’t exposed to primary risk factors, we could still be vulnerable to developing a diagnosis. We could have all the support and advantages in the world and still live with schizophrenia or severe depression. Mental wellness is a complex issue because we humans are complex. We’re a unique blend of body, spirit, intellect, and emotions. We all have different temperaments and life experiences.

Finally, one of the greatest mythologies about mental health is that people with mental illness are all violent. It has become very vogue to explain every catastrophic event that occurs as a by-product of mental illness. If a crime is committed, we immediately assume the perpetrator had a mental illness. If a child or teen acts out, he or she must have a mental illness. Because who in his or her right mind would commit a crime if sane, right? Well, crimes are committed all the time by people who do not have a diagnosis. In fact, only four percent of gun homicides can be attributed to those with a mental illness. What then compels people to violence? Why do we hurt each other? Is it greed, entitlement, poor impulse control, no moral compass, ignorance, or evil? Who knows. But not everything is caused by mental illness alone.

But one thing is certain. We can all work on our mental wellness. We can challenge ourselves to engage in basic acts of self care. Exercise, get enough sleep, breathe, socialize, and relax. Explore feelings and get in touch with our inner selves. See a therapist or join a support group. Laugh. Reach out to others. Connect to something that endows life with meaning. Because we all need to feel like we have a purpose and like we’re in relation to others. That part isn’t rocket science. It’s fundamental to humanity.

 

 

Prison of Shame

12 Jul

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary for a 5th felony DUI she was transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was taken in a Sheriff’s bus. The vehicles are typically painted black and white like a zebra. It is rare to see one of these buses on the highway. When I do, I cringe. It is especially difficult if I notice prisoners’ faces at the windows. I have no idea whether my mom was handcuffed or if she talked to anyone during the ride.

My mother never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. Yet her silence spoke volumes.

When she was released from Chowchilla, she was given a Greyhound bus ticket to get from Central California to San Diego. She had asked me to take $200.00 from her accounts to purchase some items for her. Her instructions had been incredibly specific. Most important, she needed an outfit to wear on the bus so that she didn’t have to return home in orange prison attire. At the time, orange wasn’t the new black. She wanted a nice tracksuit and asked when I purchased this at Target that I try it on since we were the same size. She also wanted a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of bean dip. All of these items would have to pass inspection at the prison to ensure that drugs or weapons weren’t being smuggled in.

I drove to the mailbox store and quickly found out that packages sent to a state penitentiary required special paperwork. I fidgeted as the clerk asked me various questions related to the forms she was filling out. I remembered that even sending books from Amazon to the prison had been a challenge. I worried what the woman at the mailbox store thought of me because I was sending something to an inmate. As I paid the fifty bucks to have the package mailed, I realized both my mom and I were doing time in one way, shape, or form.

Scan7

Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.

fs_523598

 

Released from Prison

11 May

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary, she eventually had to be transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was transported in a Sheriff’s bus that you sometimes see on the highway. The buses are painted black and white like a zebra that announce to the world that prisoners are on board. I can literarily feel the humiliation my mother must have experienced while riding that bus. I wonder if she ever talked to the other prisoners, or if she slunk down from the window so that no one on the highway could look up and see her. I pray she wasn’t handcuffed. My mother was so far from having a criminal nature this is as far as I will let my imagination take me.

She never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. I was always relieved that she didn’t disclose much about those experiences and yet her silence spoke volumes. Shame serves an evolutionary function but I don’t think it is meant to imprison us. Yet many of us do time in one way, shape or form.

247727_545225108861543_141714062_n

When I saw the above photo the other day on FB, I couldn’t help but be struck. I recognized the profound love of the officer throwing a life line to the young man. To witness someone in the throes of excruciating pain takes both tremendous energy and courage. And I’m also reminded that when my mom hit this point, there was no one there and she couldn’t hang on. She slipped through the cracks and overdosed. She was literarily imprisoned in her own pain and through death sought release.

Most days I don’t think about my mom’s suicide or the note she wrote me. But when Mother’s Day comes around and you see messages about moms all over FB, how can I not? How can I not think of Chowchilla and the fate that befell my gentle mother all because she suffered from anxiety and depression and turned to alcohol to help her cope?

I am also reminded that I somehow got lucky. Despite my own emotional struggles, I have always been able to cope. I have also had incredible people who have sat with me during those dark nights of the soul so that I never was hanging from a bridge. I also know that I was lucky to have the mother that I did for despite her emotional fragility, I never once doubted that she loved me. I was always very much wanted and looked after.

I stumbled across this photograph this morning and remember all those times mom wanted me to have my picture taken. How she adored my very image… When I look at this photo, I feel my mother’s eyes gazing down on me from heaven. To her, I will always be that little girl.

fs_916411