May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ve written about depression here before. I’ve battled with the situational variety, and more often its naggy friend anxiety. Most everyone I know has done the tango with it at one point or another. It’s an equal opportunity employer.
Its insipid and sneaky character put my friend Katie through the ringer, and finally she gave up. She worked every fucking day of her life to tame the beast that was her bipolar depression, but finally, it was just too much. She was an amazing person. Like, profoundly amazing. And I wish everyone in the world, in every city, town and small village from Tokyo to Uzbekistan had a chance to meet her. Because she was an example of why we need more research to be done on mental illness. (You can read about Katie here and here and here.)
I miss that girl. And all I never got to know about her. She was only 32. She took her life, not because she really wanted to, but because she had an illness. Because really if you met her, you would understand her passionate love of this world, her son, her husband, her family and friends, and her deep desire to help people, and you would know she would never ever want to leave this big blue ball. In fact, you would never guess someone so spirited was being taunted by, as she called them, her “faulty neurotransmitters.” You would have thought she was perfect. Because that’s what she seemed to be. PERFECT.
And see, that’s the thing about mental illness and the charming stigma it carries around like a Birkin bag. Katie didn’t tell people what was happening. She didn’t want it to negatively impact her young son. She struggled by herself a lot of the time.
There is a prevalent impression that willpower will kill depression, when really the only thing that will ever kill it is research. Mental illness is not a choice, and not a disease that is any different than cancer. The misconceptions about mental illness are as wide as a Wyoming sky. Too many people are suffering alone.
There are two important issues, one being the stigma part, one being the research part. We all need to stick our middle fingers up at the stigma. Talk about mental illness. Don’t hide it. This is not an issue that should be treated with “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Talk to your kids about mental illness, your friends, your dog.
Then, consider giving money to fund research. We need to deploy our scientists, the nerdy chemists in their white coats, to put their high SAT minds to this problem. And that takes the big bucks.
It also takes the small bucks, so if you care about this issue, please consider giving to Cure Alliance. This is an exceptional organization that’s out to get mental illness.
And if you can’t give, open your mouth. Start talking about mental illness as what it really is, a disease, not a character flaw, or a choice. Let’s smack this thing upside the head.