Near the turn of the 20th century, a Wall Street financier and graduate of Yale College named Clifford W. Beers, experienced his first episode of bipolar illness. The episode occurred after the death of his brother. At the depth of his illness, Clifford attempted suicide by jumping out of a three story window. He lived, was severely injured, and institutionalized.
While institutionalized, Clifford experienced extensive mistreatment and documented his experiences in an autobiography entitled A Mind That Found Itself.
In 1909, Clifford, along with philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, established an organization entitled The National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Today, the organization is named Mental Health America.
Clifford passed away in the early 1940’s, just short of living to see the year that Mental Health America celebrated its first Mental Health Awareness Month; May of 1949. Six decades later, we continue to observe Mental Health Awareness Month by raising awareness of mental illness, sharing first-hand experiences of living with mental illness, and providing one another with resources for mental illness treatment.
For all of the above, I am grateful. Moreover, the Mission Statement of Invest In Access specifically includes the words psychological differences, for the very reason that those differences deserve equitable representation in society. I cannot emphasize enough, that nothing in the following negates the love I have for, strength I see in, and the worth of those who manage life with mental illness daily.
It’s just, if you scan through the historical accountings of mental illness, and the present mainstream stories regarding, the focus is predominantly dedicated to the individual that’s living with mental illness. Where are the stories that follow the timeline of, and share the experiences of their loved ones?
Chances are that if loved ones are highlighted, the article is either:
- Capturing their worst fear realized: the mentally ill person in their life has crossed a public boundary, was indecent, rageful, harmful to themselves, or most excruciatingly: the mentally ill person has taken their own life, or the life of someone else.
- Providing insight as to how the loved one can better care for the mentally ill person.
We highlight their fear, their pain, and what they’re falling short in doing.
Today, I want to highlight gratitude. A sincere gratitude to anyone reading this who has ever loved, or actively loves someone living with mental illness. The fact, and what far too often goes unrecognized, is that a person who loves someone with a mental illness is an incredibly strong individual who possesses generous attributes.
Each day, loved ones are:
- Choosing to be there
- Doing their best to understand
- Experiencing their own loss (of hopes, of a ‘timeline’) wherein the mentally ill person can manage their health.
- Potentially the recipient of hurtful emotional and/or physical instability
- Scared (to engage, to leave, to stay)
- Strong (it merits repeating)
Mental illness comes with a plethora of symptoms (such as anger, anxiety, euphoria, delusions, depression, fear, forgetfulness, hallucinations, hyperactivity/sexuality, impulsivity, paranoia, poor physical health, withdrawal) and while treatment is gratefully available, in many communities, the reality is simply that the need for treatment outweighs present servicing options. Further, there are many unknowns that clinicians and trained mental health professionals work diligently to better understand each day. I am not a mental health professional, but my respect for their care is endless. No one, regardless of perspective, can know what’s yet to be discovered and so people do their best each day.
In celebration of Mental Health Awareness month, my wish is for anyone who cherishes someone that is mentally ill:
I wish you peace of mind, and personal freedom. Whether the aforementioned comes by way of counseling, space from the person who is mentally ill, taking time for an outlet of positivity, reconciliation – you name it. I wish you recognition for the love and support that you give.