“Leonard Pitts: Tough out mental illness? Don’t try it”

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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This June 12, 2013 article found on the GoErie.com website talks about the sometimes fatal consequences of the messages conveyed to people with mental health issues.  I know firsthand that what was said in this particular piece is very accurate. How do I know this?  Simple, I live with it every second of my life.  being told to suck it up, or “just get over it” are some of the harshest things I hear.  Those saying them think they are offering encouragement, but they are dangling a carrot in front of me that is so tempting I will do everything I can to get to it, but the stark reality is that I will never reach the carrot I will never be able to just “suck it up” or “get over it” reality is there is no cure for my mental illness, but there are things I can do to manage my symptoms.  People could be more helpful by asking me if there is anything they can do to help ….. and mean it.  Not just offer lip service, but actually be sincere when they ask.  Find out what my needs are and then offer suggestions, but don’t dangle tantalizing carrots just beyond my reach that I can never succeed in getting my hands on.  Don’t assume I’m dangerous because someone else made a horrible choice.  Don’t assume that because I’m mentally ill I have no clue about what my needs are.  Meet me where I’m at and assume you don’t know me well enough to give me advice until you have taken the time to get to know me as a person and really know what the struggles I face are.  I have more respect for the person who takes time to know me as a person then I do for the person who tells me to “suck it up” or “get over it”.  And based on my personal experience of reporting a suicide to the proper people and having that report ignored only to find out the next day the person I was trying to protect was dead, tells me that it isn’t just the attitude of the public, or those in politics who need to re-think what  they say or how they respond, but it is also those who take on roles as providers of mental health services that need to be conscious of what their action or lack of action may result in.  The person I fought to save died because the system failed him, and he too “sucked it up”  and tried to “get over it”  but when that wasn’t enough he chose to kill himself.  He entrusted me with the knowledge of his plan and I did everything I could to stop him from killing himself, but was treated like I was the one in need of help.  The system failed him not me, but I have to live knowing that nobody listened when I tried to save someone’s life.  This on top of dealing with my own mental health symptoms, I live with the awareness that the system is flawed, and unless it changes the man I tried to save will likely not be the only casualty.  This person is one of the driving forces behind my efforts with this blog, and other advocacy type roles I have taken on over the years since his unnecessary death.  The article that prompted my response is more true than what many will choose to admit or for that matter even consider.  When well-meaning people suggest that someone with a mental illness can as the article says “tough it out” it pisses me off knowing that people have died because of this thinking.  as a society our view needs to change we (including politicians, the media, the public, my neighbors and your neighbors) need to realize that living with a mental illness isn’t cured by shear will power it takes access to adequate treatment, funding for that treatment, and the realization that people like me are in every walk of life and want nothing more than the same level of compassion and treatment that is offered to a child with terminal cancer.  If you would tell a child who has terminal cancer to “just suck it up” or “tough it out” or “get over it” in response to their need for medical care, then and only then will I accept the same thing in response to my medical needs.

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