Unveiling Myths

by Patricia Obletz

It’s 2009 already, and yet, two intelligent movers and shakers recently told me that they each had overcome suicide with the help of treatment and supportive friends and family — but, “Please, keep this fact confidential.” Where is their well-deserved sense of pride in overcoming one of these more difficult human conditions? Becoming successful despite having a serious and persistent disability is a feather in anyone’s cap. Stigma wins when people allow erroneous perceptions to dictate their lives. Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of, or ridiculed, or feared.

Actress Glenn Close hesitated to become the spokesperson for the New York City Fountain House* national anti-stigma advertising campaign. Fountain House is a clubhouse for people who are recovering from mental illnesses who need assistance with jobs, education and housing; it also provides a supportive environment. Glenn Close, who has two family members who have mental illnesses, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, hesitated to speak out because she didn’t want anyone to assume that she had a mental illness. Rather than letting her consistently brilliant career address that aspect for her, she had to say to herself, “What’s the alternative? Not to do it?” This story appeared in the January/February 2009 AARP the Magazine. Writer Meg Grant also quotes Fountain House president Kenn Dudek: “(Close) gets nothing from this, and in fact it is in fact a little dangerous. Everybody knows that if you come out and admit a connection with these illnesses, you risk being thought of as unreliable or dangerous, when in fact most (people with mental illnesses) are not.”

I don’t like associating the word “dangerous” with mental illnesses because it smacks of all the sensationalized fictional characters that have stereotyped these human conditions, promoting as well as perpetuating stigma. Frankly, until I read that piece, it actually never dawned on me that, because I’m open about having bipolar illness, people might think that I’m dangerous. But what the hell. My resume speaks to my reliable productivity and, while my illness was active, I was a danger only to myself. The truth is that I view my achievement of moderation as my greatest accomplishment, and my greatest gift: it is what turned me into an activist and onto the best years of my life. I’m glad that Glenn Close agreed to put health before personal concerns.

So again I ask, when will people realize that mental illnesses exist in every family? Do you accept this fact? Do you know that these illnesses have an 85 percent recovery rate? That we can use the extraordinary sensitivity and energy that usually accompany these illnesses to work in our favor once we learn how to moderate our symptoms? Mental health treatment is in great part a crucial education. Some of us who need it also need medication to help us concentrate on learning what we need to know.

Most people can improve life by focusing on positive, healthy choices, such as decent nutrition and exercise. But, if your doctor tests you and nothing comes back positive to show why you have ongoing stomach, lung, muscle or flu-like problems, why not check out your mental health? Libraries and websites offer a wealth of material on what mental health is and is not. And if you do seek mental health help, please try not to be discouraged if the first medication you try isn’t effective. There is an ever-growing wide range of different medicines and various dosages for post traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health problems. Critical to recovery is to make sure you know what to expect in terms of side effects and how long it takes for any med to start working. Keep trying different prescriptions until one works for you. Isn’t the quality of your time on this earth worth it?

Take care of your selves: mind, body, spirit.

  • Milwaukee’s own Grand Avenue Club (GAC) was modeled on Fountain House. GAC’s farsighted director, Rachel Forman, also added an art gallery to its activities when artist Colleen Shoop, after doing her social work internship at the clubhouse, volunteered to run an art gallery and launch the GAC Art Collective. Oddly enough, only Fountain House and Grand Avenue Club have added an art gallery, although there are 385 clubhouses around the world. Oddly enough, because the visual and performing arts have been proven long ago to promote creativity, innovation and healing.

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Last edited by patricia obletz. Based on work by Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on July 12, 2011

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