Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Mental Health Awareness Month is once again upon us. It’s an important topic to me, as I am one of the “chronically lonely” elders that seems to be a thing these days, and have suffered from depression, diagnosed so long ago that it was called “Manic Depressive”. My friend is studying to be a psychologist and I’m sure she’ll be an excellent one. In fact, one of the principal reasons that I began writing blogs is to share my issues with others in the hopes that, if somebody is going through the same thing, it will help them to know that they are not alone. Maybe I’ve helped, maybe not, but I’m trying.
In my opinion, mental health issues are not taken seriously enough in our society. From our childhood, phrases like “that’s crazy” or “he’s delusional” have been woven into the fabric of our lives like some sort of comic relief. The reality is that for those suffering from mental health problems like delusion, it’s not funny. Living in New York City, it was not uncommon to see people walking alone in the streets having clearly painful discussions with somebody that nobody else could see. I will never understand the reason, but apparently these voices seem to be always angry, insulting and hurtful. When we use the phrase “he’s schizophrenic”, we’re wishing that person a literal hell on earth.
It’s not just large cities. People struggle with issues everywhere. Even in my small town, I’ve crossed paths with at least two people who were very obviously struggling with voices in the past year. Frankly, I do not even know where these people should go for help, especially after Covid. I’ve tried online therapy and for me, personally, it proved to be little or no help. A few days ago, I saw a therapy office near my insurance agent that I had stopped by to clear up an issue. Since I have been suffering from depression for quite a long time, and feeling a desperate need for therapy, I thought I’d stop by. Without going into the details, I left muttering to myself, “when you’re suffering, nobody wants to help.”
Many alcoholics know this feeling all too well. It is not uncommon that family and friends will turn away from those struggling with chemical addiction to the point of estrangement. This is not always a bad thing, as sometimes people need to lose everything before they realize that their addiction must be addressed. Unfortunately, such estrangement can be permanent and stretch well past the recovery period. I am aware of a recovering alcoholic, by all accounts one of the nicest men you could know, with children who will not speak with him despite years of sobriety. I cannot speak to what he did or did not do in the depths of his addiction because alcohol and drug addiction does change people, as I have seen firsthand in my former wife. There are things that are unforgivable, and I understand this, but I wonder how many people truly understand the differences in personality between someone in the throws of addiction, and someone who is clean and sober. To this day I think of myself as a widower, not because my wife died, but the woman I had married did. We won’t get back together, but I hope she has found her way out of the bottle and that her family has taken her back into their folds.
Too many people discount mental issues because it doesn’t fit with their own personal experiences. Depression is far too common, and as one who suffers from it I can speak to the harm when I hear that I’m faking it, that it’s not a real thing, or that I just need to “decide” to feel better from people who were once important to me. This is why it’s important for me to try to be as open and honest about these issues as possible. Unfortunately, those who say such things are only displaying their own ignorance, and, frankly, usually an unwillingness to learn and grow. Somehow, though, that knowledge doesn’t help to mitigate the pain of such statements.
Hearing such things raises doubts in myself as it makes me wonder if indeed it is a real issue despite the fact that I know, with scientific backing, that it is very real and very much beyond my control. My depression, I know, is the result of a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s a type of illness, like the flu. I didn’t ask to be depressed, and there’s nothing I can do to self-heal. Those who denigrate me for my condition is not significantly different from telling someone in a wheelchair that they need to get up and walk.
For mental health awareness month, perhaps it’s a good opportunity for all of us to examine our knowledge, and tolerance, for issues of mental health. Perhaps we can try to see how pervasive these hurtful phrases are in our vocabulary, and maybe even learn a little bit about something we didn’t know before. Or, maybe we can continue our ignorance blissfully unaware of the impact we’re having on others.