On my Mind

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”


I’m just going to throw this one out there. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Study after study shows that people who take care of all aspects of their health live longer, more fulfilling lives. Like many health related things, however, people don’t want to talk about it.

So I’m going to talk and hope at least one person listens. In the last two months, several people I care about have become so disillusioned with life that they decided suicide was the only way out. While I’m not an expert, I’ve been there myself and walked with many others who have felt this way. I’m not going to sugarcoat things here with the hope that at least one person understands what I’m saying.

At the time a person reaches this point, the sense of reason is gone. There is literally nothing visible to the individual aside from release. It’s like tunnel vision or wearing blinders. Distraction is almost impossible because the fixation on relief is so strong. If someone is well and truly only focused on the relief, there is not much anyone can do to stop the inevitable conclusion. You can try to talk someone off the ledge, but a truly determined individual will not hear you.

Which brings me to my next point. We’re social beings. If you start to see a friend withdraw, ask why. This is the time your words may be heard. Waiting until the cries for help become so obvious they can’t be ignored is too long. Engage your friends on a regular basis. Check on each other and listen instead of thinking about your next activity. Just imagine if we all paid as much attention to the people around us as we do to celebrities. Everyone’s well-being would improve.

The flip side of this is to recognize when you are over your head. Some people need more help than others. While a chat or a hug may help someone regain a wider view, it’s just not possible for everyone to bounce back as easily. The airline advisory to put your own mask on first is so true. If you become fixated on helping someone who doesn’t want help, you can go down as well. Especially if the person is ultimately successful despite your efforts.

Ironically, mental health professionals are some of the lowest paid individuals and yet they carry such a huge responsibility. My insurance only reimburses up to about 1/3 of what they pay my physicians. As my news feed becomes plugged up with stories about how mental illness is to blame for most shootings, I just think about how great it would be if we not only had the professionals, but also the respect for the profession. Money isn’t everything, but everyone has bills and it would be nice if the people we hope will step up could be compensated accordingly.

Many years ago a movie titled “Crocodile Dundee” screened across America. The title character is from Australia and ends up in America. He has a conversation about life’s troubles with the female lead who mentions her therapist. And the words he spoke “don’t you talk to your mates (friends)?” still reverberates in my mind. We have all become so busy that we have forgotten about our mates. In this crazy, self-absorbed society we have left our friends to fend for themselves. And that is just not cool.

For those of you who contemplate relief on a regular basis, I urge you to seek out professional help now. For those of you who think, but don’t act, reach out. There are many avenues out there available to you. Sometimes you just need to see around the next corner. For those of you who think you’re immune, I ask you to share your strength. Engage with your friends and community. Help others see the sunny side of life.

We’re all in this together. Don’t place blame. Shaming people because you think they’re weak is not okay either. You don’t know what is up next in your life. Or how well you will cope with the next curveball life throws you. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to offer help. Don’t shy away from someone because they have hit a bump. You may be the one who makes a difference.


State of Mind

One has a greater sense of degradation after an interview with a doctor than from any human experience.~ Alice James

I bet that those who read the above can identify with the sentiment. Even the advertisements on television try to make asking a doctor questions seem like a pleasant and worthwhile experience. Medical practices use catchy phrases, colorful logos and photogenic people to entice the public to come see them. Haven’t you ever wondered why a profession that has been deemed “necessary” to modern man needs to spend so much effort on its public image?

I’ll come right out and state that I don’t believe physicians as a group desire to do harm. I believe they genuinely want to be helpful. Sure, there are a few that became physicians to improve social standing, meet someone’s expectations or perhaps lack the imagination to do anything else. I’ve met those physicians…my favorite saying is that someone had to graduate at the bottom of the class. I’ve met some that are quite compassionate and others whose bedside manner could freeze, well, you get the idea. I’ve met some who want to educate me, lay out my options. And I’ve met some that need educating. It is a mixed bag with respect to doctor-patient relationships.

But, I have found there is one thing that doctors as a group don’t handle very well. Mental illness. Just mention that you’ve got the blues and out comes the prescription pad. Try to convey how mental illness affects your daily living and you will most likely be met with many nods of the head, but no understanding. It’s an illness that has no cure, piggy-backs on other illnesses and is so stigmatized that people go to great lengths to hide any signs that might even be remotely interpreted as mental illness.

It’s time to break that stigma. It’s time to stop over and under reacting to the human condition. It’s time to realize that mental illness does not define a person. It is an illness. It isn’t simple to “fix.” It’s frustrating for everyone, especially the person going through a crisis. We need doctors to understand that in order to grasp what is ailing a person, they shouldn’t balk at our mental states because they are messy. We are people. By nature we are messy.

But doctors degrade me. As soon as my past comes up, it becomes the driving factor behind my medical treatments. They start talking to me like a toddler who needs stern guidance. They threaten to take away my decision-making rights under the guise of keeping me safe. Medical care is withheld “for my own good.” One whiff of mental illness and suddenly I’m no longer a person. Doctors act like I’m contagious and try to lock me away, to shoo me out of their office as soon as possible so they don’t “catch” it.

I am honest with my healthcare providers about my past. I want them to understand that this is part of me that I have to live with every single day. I need them to understand why some things that they suggest are not realistic for me. In response, I get labeled as “non-compliant,” “faking it” and “attention seeking” to name a few. I have those in writing from physicians I’ve just been treated by. They met me twice and decided that, despite reams of quantitative data and hours of testing, I’m “faking it.”

Maybe I should stop wearing my happy face all the time. Except then I’d be labelled with something else and probably placed in a mental health facility. This burning need (and of course, legal liability) to control my behaviors because of my mental illness is ridiculous. Ten years ago, I was in therapy. I was having a bad day and said it would be great to just go to sleep and never wake up. That resulted in police knocking on my door, performing a “welfare check” which I’m sure, had my husband not intervened, would have resulted in me being removed from my home and institutionalized.

So why do my doctors become so concerned about my mental health to the exclusion of my physical health? Is the driving need to preserve my life by any means possible only applicable when they think I might hurt myself? Do they ever consider that their actions, their fervent desire to prevent any behavior outside of “normal,” may be the reason people act abnormally? When I ask my doctors these questions, they stare at their shoes. I guess it’s easier to blame mental illness than it is to try to find answers.

We should not fear physicians. They have knowledge, but we give them far too much power. They make mistakes and based on anecdotal observation, may panic around people like me because they see themselves when they look at us. No one likes a reminder of frailty staring at them.

To those who live each day with mental illness, know that there are many others standing with you. Understand that even if others don’t admit it, statistically 3 out of every 5 people in he United States is affected by mental illness. No one can fully understand the effects of mental illness. I would tell you not to be afraid of doctors, but I can’t in good conscience state that. Until people stop placing a stigma on mental illness, we will always be at risk of being marginalized, degraded and ignored.

Today, just accept that we are all human. Help someone understand that mental status does not define a human being, Embrace your friends and family, warts and all. Support the people you know are struggling and always be kind because you don’t know what state of mind someone else may be in.