Despite the fact that people are talking more freely about mental illness as a disease like cancer or heart disease, the stigma is still there. It is hard enough to live with it, but when you have to hide it, everything is worse.

 

Like cancer, mental illness can kill you. Just notice all those besides Robin Williams who have died from suicide, or drug overdose. Usually, the source of drug overdose is some form of severe mental illness.

 

Since mental illness is unspoken and unexamined by most, the general public does not know the facts about it. Most of us secretly think mental illness has no effect on us, so why should we care. Often people describe with annoyance the symptoms of family members or acquaintances. They do not know they are complaining about the same symptoms as those with some form of mental illness. It would serve us all to educate ourselves on the topic. Knowing the symptoms could add understanding to those who are suffering, giving them a break. It could also lessen the annoyance of the observers. Once the probable source is known, we can attempt to understand the person, instead of judging them.

 

The numbers of sufferers are likely higher than you would think. “About 2.4% of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the first comprehensive international figures on the topic. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of bipolar disorder at 4.4%.” http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/07/US.highest.bipolar.rates/

 

Another way of understanding the number, instead of percentages is the following. According to NIMH, The National Institute of Mental health: “In 2012, there were an estimated 9.6 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. with SMI (Serious Mental Illness) in the past year. This represented 4.1 percent of all U.S. adults.”  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/SMI_AASR.shtml

 

Since there are many people younger than 18 with serious mental illness, that number of 9.6 million is lower than the total number. And that number is just in the US. Think about the world.

 

If we can be compassionate with Robin Williams, can we be equally compassionate with those in our family or in our neighborhood? Can be compassionate with those in our workplace and in our world?

 

How do I know about mental illness? I was born to parents with severe mental illness. Witnessing the effects throughout my childhood, it was up front and personal. And in recent years, I have taken supplements to control Seasonal Affective Disorder.

 

Approximately, there are 95.6% of us who do not suffer with severe mental illness. We cannot know what it is like for those with neurological disorders. We do not even come close to experiencing the kind of pain that the 4.4% feel.

 

Besides those who suffer severely, there is a larger percentage of the population that suffers some milder form of mental illness. Then add in another percent of us with mentally ill family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. That counts for huge numbers of people. On top of that, count in the unknown numbers of undiagnosed people with neurological disorders.  Is anyone immune to the effects of mental illness in their life?

 

With all these numbers, it would behoove us rally in the streets for this disease to be addressed more rigorously. More attention to neurological disease is needed in the medical field. As voters, will we demand our elected officials to allocate resources to mental health? Mental health levies often fail because voters don’t see how this issue affects them. In the process of saving a pittance, we lose valuable people. It is not simply through death that we lose people. We lose them through the suffering that kills their spirit when alive. We see it took away a beloved celebrity. Yet, we are blind to the unimaginable, extreme agony Robin Williams endured. He suffered along with 9.6 million adults living just in the US.

 

Obviously, people who need help are not getting it. What will we do with this knowledge? Who will speak for them? Who will defend them from the ignorant people who blame the victim?

 

Even with the mental health facilities we do have, we as taxpayers can demand that the mental health departments support those that need it most. The leading research psychiatrist on schizophrenia, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey decries the trend that ignores those with the most painful symptoms. “Torrey has been a fierce opponent of the influence of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. He has also argued that psychiatry should focus only on severe mental illness, conceived as neurological disorders, rather than other mental issues that he viewed as non-medical.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Fuller_Torrey

 

We all have a responsibility to be aware. This is our world. Until all people have access to effective mental health care, we will continue to lose valuable people to this disease through everyday suicides, through mass murders, through personal vitality, and individual productivity.

 

Help begins with each one of us. It would be in our national best interest to have compassion for all those suffering mental illness. Can we agree to start there?

 

We can never replace Robin Williams, or any loved one lost to this disease.  Robin Williams represented joy to us, and he could not have it for himself. Now we can learn from this very public loss and bring understanding and possible action into our lives.  Let us add our voice into a cause that turns silent indifference to genuine support. Since we are interrelated, any positive action for mental health goes a long way  for the welfare of all citizens.

 

 

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