Just so you know, this article is more, well, jarring than mine usually are. The whole ‘13 Reasons Why’ debate lights a fire within me—the Netflix series is not dangerous, it is a wakeup call, so please stop attacking Selena—and I think I’ve channeled that energy into my writing.
If you were wondering: yes, I did purposefully wait to post this blog until after everyone and their mother expressed their opinions about Hannah Baker on social media.
I like to be original.
But then Chester Bennington died on Thursday.
Before that, Chris Cornell.
I remember hearing about Robin Williams’s suicide as if it was yesterday.
It wasn’t yesterday.
Or last month.
Or last year.
It was in 2014.
And I decided that the time is now. Time to let the fire burn, burn down to the ground, under the ground, to where too many loved ones lie. Time to talk; time to yell; time to scream; time to burst. Time to unleash the hurt. The pain. The rage.
It is time.
So here we go, I give you perhaps the most cliché title in the whole wide Internet:
’13 Reasons Why’ We Need to Continue the Mental Health Conversation
Dedicated to Chester Bennington
- Antidepressants don’t solve everything.
White and yellow and red and pink and purple drugs fill my medicine cabinet, looking as harmless as candy. But you should never take candy from a stranger, even if that stranger is your newest psychiatrist. I’m not saying don’t take your meds. Take your meds!!! I’m saying, learn, and learn lots. Don’t ignorantly take his word for it. Play an active role in your treatment.
For example: You see antidepressant commercials all over TV. You watch the sad person magically become happy. Like a snap of the fingers or a flick of a magic wand, one pill pop and up pops Happy Hannah. Who wouldn’t want such a quick fix for a lousy day?
But do you listen to how many side effects they rattle off? And that’s just for the drug advertised. You don’t ever hear about medications for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or OCD or PTSD. Do you?
Well let me enlighten you: each and every drug has a little bit of a devil inside. The mentally ill never know if their newest medication will save them or eat them alive.
- There is no one “face” of mental illness.
I am told that I “don’t look like someone who has bipolar disorder.” And honestly, I take that as a compliment. Who wants to look like someone with a debilitating, lifelong mental illness?
But here’s the thing: “normal looking” people are bipolar. Girls are bipolar. Boys are bipolar. Moms and dads and daughters and sons and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers are bipolar. Friends are bipolar. Lovers are bipolar. Famous people are bipolar.
I am bipolar.
Yes, the stereotypical “locked in a psych ward for the rest of eternity” people do exist. But if you don’t get to see their faces, if they are hidden from society, do they even really have a “face” at all?
- Psychiatric hospitals save lives.
Nice segue from my 2nd point: normal people enter psych wards. But psych wards are so stigmatized that when talked about, one speaks in a hushed tone. That girl was admitted. That man must be so crazy that they had to put him away. This stigmatization prevents too many people from getting help.
Including me, for a while.
And when I couldn’t take it any longer, when I went in for good, I was just going through a tough time. That’s what one says when one wants to be kind about another’s insanity.
Not all hospitals are created equal, of course. My 1st hospital (one whispers) was set up like a house, with a living room and a kitchen and even a gym. Nice and quiet and quaint, besides the eyes always watching you and the doors locking you in indefinitely.
My 2nd hospital was exactly how you imagine an institution: bright walls and fluorescent lighting and a pill counter and real-life criminals. But this 2nd psych ward was the one that saved my life, not the comfy cozy house. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder there. Finally.
I had to face the humiliation of being admitted in order to survive.
I am so thankful I was admitted.
- Disorders can be (and too often are) perceived as personality traits.
Many of my symptoms of bipolar mania mimic my natural, eccentric, extroverted personality. Just an exaggerated version of myself. Before I was diagnosed, my impulsivity was blown off as immature teenage decision-making. My grandiosity and euphoria seemed to be byproducts of my high self-esteem. My racing thoughts proved my intelligence. This manic life was all I’d ever known, all anyone had ever known. And thus manic was my normal.
This is the reason I went through 12 therapists, 5 psychiatrists, and 2 hospitals before being correctly diagnosed. No one knew my “natural” traits were symptoms of a life-threatening disorder until it was almost too late.
- Most people with mental illnesses aren’t dumb, don’t “cry disability” for taxpayers’ money, and won’t rely on their diagnoses to get what they want.
Having a mental illness costs a lot of money. My psychiatrist costs me $100. With insurance. For a 15-minute meeting. Therapists cost hundreds of dollars each visit. Mental illness treatment isn’t an option for too many people. Medicare and Medicaid certainly don’t cover it, and most other insurance companies pick and choose what they accept, without rhyme or reason. The insurance-less too often live without any help.
And no, they can’t and won’t “just get over it.”
- People with mental illnesses can live (somewhat) normal lives.
However, the people (like me) lucky enough to pay for the top treatment can learn to control their mental illnesses (most of the time). I am a bipolar person at a prestigious university. I know bipolar people who hold highly competitive and demanding jobs. I know bipolar people who are married, who have children. And who knows how many people I have met but have no clue what they struggle with, because they don’t let it interfere with their aspirations. It is possible. And it is so desperately desired.
- One in five
Thanks to NAMI, we know that one in five American adults suffer from mental illness each year. Think of your five best friends, and then imagine watching one of them crumple up in a terrifying fit of depression. Or a panic attack. Or a suicide attempt.
1% of the population has bipolar disorder. That sounds like a miniscule amount compared to one in five. But that one person out of 100 matters too. Out of 323 million Americans, 3 million have bipolar disorder. Still a decent chunk of the population.
- Men have mental illnesses TOO!
Boys endure constant social pressure to “become men.” We all know it, all see it, and probably all partake in it, to some extent. After a certain age, boys are expected to stay strong, to not cry, to be unemotional, the jock, the future money-makers in their typical American home.
Like they are silent about every other feeling, men tend to keep their mental health to themselves. Back to the NIH: 21.2% of women are diagnosed with a mental illness, versus 14.3% of men. Is this due to gender differences; are women more prone to mental illnesses than men?
Or perhaps men are less willing to admit they have a problem, any problem, but especially a problem with their mental health?
Or perhaps it is a little bit of both.
Vulnerability means weakness, and men can never be weak. Right?
Vulnerability actually means strength, means actively working to fix the problem. And that’s what men are supposed to do, fix the problems. Right?
This time, they’re just fixing their own problem. And that is okay, too.
- Early attention, early prevention
Soon after puberty, a child becomes a teenager, and that teenager becomes depressed. Right before high school graduation, a teenager develops schizophrenia. And during college, a young adult experiences the onset of her bipolar disorder.
They grow up in the blink of an eye. They get taller, bigger, hairier, more mature, more independent. And maybe mentally ill. In fact, NAMI (again) says that half of mental illnesses develop by age 14.
My mental illness developed by age 14.
I lived undiagnosed until I was 20.
The earlier you realize it, the better their chances of controlling it.
- Can you accurately define and explain bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia?
(FYI: “A severe mental disorder” is not a good enough answer.)
- Suicide is kind of a big deal.
According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
According to the NIH, there were 52 million dollars dedicated to suicide research in 2016.
But there were almost twice as many dollars spent on heart disease. 10x more spent on cancer.
If you cannot be bothered to donate a few million dollars to the cause, you can still save lives. And you can perhaps save them more effectively. How?
By talking. To your friends, family, blogs, social media, what have you. By letting one person know that he is not alone. By sharing your own story. By your willingness to learn more. Up to ½ of suicide attempts and deaths in the US are by people who are bipolar. It is imperative that you, that we, take action.
Free resources. Get it?
How does someone get help if he doesn’t know where to look for it?
Know them, share them, save a life.
CALL 911 if there is any possibility of you or someone you know is hurting or will hurt anyone.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK for 24-hour crisis support
Online National Suicide Prevention chat at chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Text NAMI to 741741 and connect with a professional crisis counselor
Online mental health screening at mentalhealthscreening.org (does not substitute for a professional diagnosis)
Check out ok2talk.org to read about other people’s mental health journeys and submit your own
Find support for suicide loss survivors at allianceofhope.org
Find over 30 hotline numbers specific to your crisis at:
- We. Can’t. Help. It. (But you can help us)
It seems like every freakin bipolar resource I read compares my mental illness to type 1 diabetes. But that’s because it proves a point. People can’t prevent bipolar, and people can’t prevent diabetes. Doctors can’t cure bipolar, and doctors can’t cure diabetes. So people can only try to try to manage bipolar, and people can only try to manage diabetes.
Sometimes things go wrong, like a medicated bipolar person slips into a hypomanic phase, or a diabetic with an insulin pump slips into a hypoglycemic phase. Dangerous, potentially deadly consequences for something neither of them can control.
For something neither of them can control.
Get it? Got it? Good.
If you agree with me, or disagree with me (especially if you disagree with me), please like, comment, share, whatever you please. Whisper it or gossip it or cry it from the rooftops. Do what you need to do. Talk. It all benefits me.
Rest in peace Chester.
And too many others.