Serious Mental Illness Blog

Official blog for LIU Post's Clinical Psychology Doctorate SMI Specialty Concentration

Posts tagged mental illness

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Mental illness and sexual abuse: The shocking linkBy Richard P. Grant, The Guardian
Violence perpetrated on the mentally ill shows that victim-blaming is nothing more than a cover-up for subhuman behaviour
Some years ago, the Mufti of Australia got into hot water when he likened women who failed to wear the hijab to “uncovered meat”, at risk of being devoured by cats. In other words, if a woman who dressed “immodestly” were to be raped then she should share, if not take all, the blame.
Sadly, despite the outcry that followed, this attitude – that of blaming the victim – is still deeply prevalent. It should be obvious, but it apparently needs stating over and over: the criminal is the offender. That is, in a rape, the rapist is at fault. No argument.
Women, for example, do not just “get raped”. Somebody has to actively perform an unwelcome act. There is no place for blaming a victim for wearing the “wrong” clothes: if you do, you justify the action. Not to mention that there is no evidence that wearing so-called provocative clothing has anything to do with whether or not someone is likely to rape someone else. Neither is being intoxicated an invitation to rape (because cultures where alcohol is banned and women must be covered up don’t have a problem with rape, right?).
It is worth repeating here that the major motive for most rapes is not sexual attraction, but power. And rapes tend not to be spur-of-the-moment: most rapes are pre-meditated, and only about 8% of rapes are perpetrated by strangers.
More than this, if you blame the victim – by saying she is like a plate of uncovered meat, say – you also remove agency from the offender. Saying “She was asking for it” is simply an abdication of responsibility: it makes you into a simpleton with no control over your actions. An animal perhaps – a feral animal who should maybe be treated like one. It’s also pretty bloody insulting to most men to imply that they are helpless animals with no self-control, but that’s by the by.
To follow victim-blaming logic, you would argue that if someone (and it doesn’t have to be necessarily a woman) does anything that is slightly outside a cultural norm then it is their own fault if someone rapes or otherwise abuses them. If that logic doesn’t immediately sound perverse to you, perhaps it would help to think of an example. Shall we consider mental illness?
There is still a stigma against mental illness. It’s a broad term covering many conditions, and it is still majorly misunderstood. You just have to look at other recent events to realise this. People suffering from severe mental illness are often stigmatised, feared even, because of the public misperception of (for example) schizophrenics as violent. But you can’t help suffering from mental illness, and you can’t always be cured of it.
Would we blame a woman who suffered from schizophrenia if someone raped her? Would we attribute the rape to her illness, and say she should have taken steps to prevent it?
Hardly.
A study by researchers at University College and Kings College London, published today in Psychological Medicine, reports that of women with severe mental illness surveyed for the study, 40% had been the victims of rape or attempted rape.* This compares with 7% of the general population (the figures for men are no less remarkable, although lower overall: 12% of men with severe mental illness had been seriously sexually assaulted, versus 0.5% in the general population).
“the reality for patients is that they are at increased risk of being victims of some of the most damaging types of violence.”
– Professor Louise Howard, Kings College London
Somebody seriously sexually abuses nearly one in every two women with severe mental illness. Although this is an association rather than a proof of causation, the study makes it clear that the illnesses being treated could not all be caused by the abuse: all participating patients had been treated for at least a year and 10% had experienced sexual assault within the past year at the time of the survey. So it looks that for at least some (and I’d wager most) of the victims, the assault would not have happened if they had not been suffering from mental illness.
Nearly half of the sexual abuse of women was classified as “domestic”, that is carried out by a partner or other family member. So again, this isn’t opportunistic rape, not a case of seeing someone “asking for it” and acting upon that notion; this is abuse by a (probably trusted) family member who is more than likely aware of the victim’s vulnerability, and who deliberately takes advantage of it.
Would you say that it is the victim’s fault for having schizophrenia that somebody abused them? Would you say that the 12% of men in the survey who were sexually abused should have done something to prevent it? Were they “asking for it”?
No? Why then say women should cover up, or not drink, or stay inside, or not take raunchy photographs of themselves with their partner? Is it simply that people with mental illness don’t have a choice, but that women do have control over their dress and their alcohol intake. If that’s what you think, then take a moment to consider what that says about you. (Hint: it’s nothing complimentary).
So why blame a woman when someone rapes or otherwise treats them like an item of property?
Shall we take the victim-blaming argument to its logical conclusion and simply say, if you don’t want to be raped, don’t be a woman?
The civil thing to do is to say no; the perpetrator of the hack; the viewer of the photographs; or the apologist for the rapist: they are the ones who poison society like a cancer, and who deserve to be publicly shamed.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog. Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Mental illness and sexual abuse: The shocking link
By Richard P. Grant, The Guardian

Violence perpetrated on the mentally ill shows that victim-blaming is nothing more than a cover-up for subhuman behaviour

Some years ago, the Mufti of Australia got into hot water when he likened women who failed to wear the hijab to “uncovered meat”, at risk of being devoured by cats. In other words, if a woman who dressed “immodestly” were to be raped then she should share, if not take all, the blame.

Sadly, despite the outcry that followed, this attitude – that of blaming the victimis still deeply prevalent. It should be obvious, but it apparently needs stating over and over: the criminal is the offender. That is, in a rape, the rapist is at fault. No argument.

Women, for example, do not just “get raped”. Somebody has to actively perform an unwelcome act. There is no place for blaming a victim for wearing the “wrong” clothes: if you do, you justify the action. Not to mention that there is no evidence that wearing so-called provocative clothing has anything to do with whether or not someone is likely to rape someone else. Neither is being intoxicated an invitation to rape (because cultures where alcohol is banned and women must be covered up don’t have a problem with rape, right?).

It is worth repeating here that the major motive for most rapes is not sexual attraction, but power. And rapes tend not to be spur-of-the-moment: most rapes are pre-meditated, and only about 8% of rapes are perpetrated by strangers.

More than this, if you blame the victim – by saying she is like a plate of uncovered meat, say – you also remove agency from the offender. Saying “She was asking for it” is simply an abdication of responsibility: it makes you into a simpleton with no control over your actions. An animal perhaps – a feral animal who should maybe be treated like one. It’s also pretty bloody insulting to most men to imply that they are helpless animals with no self-control, but that’s by the by.

To follow victim-blaming logic, you would argue that if someone (and it doesn’t have to be necessarily a woman) does anything that is slightly outside a cultural norm then it is their own fault if someone rapes or otherwise abuses them. If that logic doesn’t immediately sound perverse to you, perhaps it would help to think of an example. Shall we consider mental illness?

There is still a stigma against mental illness. It’s a broad term covering many conditions, and it is still majorly misunderstood. You just have to look at other recent events to realise this. People suffering from severe mental illness are often stigmatised, feared even, because of the public misperception of (for example) schizophrenics as violent. But you can’t help suffering from mental illness, and you can’t always be cured of it.

Would we blame a woman who suffered from schizophrenia if someone raped her? Would we attribute the rape to her illness, and say she should have taken steps to prevent it?

Hardly.

A study by researchers at University College and Kings College London, published today in Psychological Medicine, reports that of women with severe mental illness surveyed for the study, 40% had been the victims of rape or attempted rape.* This compares with 7% of the general population (the figures for men are no less remarkable, although lower overall: 12% of men with severe mental illness had been seriously sexually assaulted, versus 0.5% in the general population).

“the reality for patients is that they are at increased risk of being victims of some of the most damaging types of violence.”

– Professor Louise Howard, Kings College London

Somebody seriously sexually abuses nearly one in every two women with severe mental illness. Although this is an association rather than a proof of causation, the study makes it clear that the illnesses being treated could not all be caused by the abuse: all participating patients had been treated for at least a year and 10% had experienced sexual assault within the past year at the time of the survey. So it looks that for at least some (and I’d wager most) of the victims, the assault would not have happened if they had not been suffering from mental illness.

Nearly half of the sexual abuse of women was classified as “domestic”, that is carried out by a partner or other family member. So again, this isn’t opportunistic rape, not a case of seeing someone “asking for it” and acting upon that notion; this is abuse by a (probably trusted) family member who is more than likely aware of the victim’s vulnerability, and who deliberately takes advantage of it.

Would you say that it is the victim’s fault for having schizophrenia that somebody abused them? Would you say that the 12% of men in the survey who were sexually abused should have done something to prevent it? Were they “asking for it”?

No? Why then say women should cover up, or not drink, or stay inside, or not take raunchy photographs of themselves with their partner? Is it simply that people with mental illness don’t have a choice, but that women do have control over their dress and their alcohol intake. If that’s what you think, then take a moment to consider what that says about you. (Hint: it’s nothing complimentary).

So why blame a woman when someone rapes or otherwise treats them like an item of property?

Shall we take the victim-blaming argument to its logical conclusion and simply say, if you don’t want to be raped, don’t be a woman?

The civil thing to do is to say no; the perpetrator of the hack; the viewer of the photographs; or the apologist for the rapist: they are the ones who poison society like a cancer, and who deserve to be publicly shamed.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under abuse abused trauma traumatized ptsd victim blaming mental health healthy mind body brain recovery recover stigma stigmatized mental illness mental health rape raped trigger triggered wellness assault sexual assault violence violent psychology psychiatry

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Missy Douglas: Visualizing bipolar disorder through artBy David Keller, BBC News
Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret, bipolar disorder sufferer Missy Douglas spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition.
Waking up each morning, Missy Douglas has no idea how the day will go. She may feel invincible, or she may be hit by a bout of depression.
Battling the emotional extremes in life has become second nature to the 37-year-old artist, who has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her adult life.
Last year she chose to do what she does best. Every day, for a year, she picked up her paintbrushes and painted exactly how she felt.
She decided to give up her medication while she carried out the project.
"I wanted it to be as pure a view of the disorder as possible," she said.
"Painting every day didn’t make me feel more stable or increase my sense of wellbeing," she said Douglas. "In fact, trying to look inside and express raw emotion or psychological distress everyday was very difficult.
"It sometimes exacerbated the depression or mania I was experiencing at the time. However, when I look back I can recognize the patterns and rhythms of my own ‘brand’ of the disorder."
Bipolar disorder brings about strong mood swings that can last for several weeks.
It can leave people unable to form relationships or cope with the day-to-day routine of work and - in extreme circumstances - lead to a feeling of worthlessness.
Douglas, who is originally from Northampton but now lives in New York, said living with the condition could be “extremely exhausting”.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Missy Douglas: Visualizing bipolar disorder through art
By David Keller, BBC News

Fed up with keeping her mental health a secret, bipolar disorder sufferer Missy Douglas spent a year creating a painting each day to express her feelings. Controversially, she decided not to take her medication during this time, in the hope that paintings demonstrating her highs and lows would raise awareness of her condition.

Waking up each morning, Missy Douglas has no idea how the day will go. She may feel invincible, or she may be hit by a bout of depression.

Battling the emotional extremes in life has become second nature to the 37-year-old artist, who has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her adult life.

Last year she chose to do what she does best. Every day, for a year, she picked up her paintbrushes and painted exactly how she felt.

She decided to give up her medication while she carried out the project.

"I wanted it to be as pure a view of the disorder as possible," she said.

"Painting every day didn’t make me feel more stable or increase my sense of wellbeing," she said Douglas. "In fact, trying to look inside and express raw emotion or psychological distress everyday was very difficult.

"It sometimes exacerbated the depression or mania I was experiencing at the time. However, when I look back I can recognize the patterns and rhythms of my own ‘brand’ of the disorder."

Bipolar disorder brings about strong mood swings that can last for several weeks.

It can leave people unable to form relationships or cope with the day-to-day routine of work and - in extreme circumstances - lead to a feeling of worthlessness.

Douglas, who is originally from Northampton but now lives in New York, said living with the condition could be “extremely exhausting”.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under art artist artistic creative creativity fine artist paint painting painter bipolar bipolar disorder mind body brain wellness health healthy mental health mental mental illness recovery treatment hope psychology psychiatry counseling life life story feelings feeling

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TEDxMaastricht Clarissa Silva: Expert from experience

Video description: Live with your strength, not with your weaknesses. "Bizarre how fast your life can change," that’s how Clarissa started her talk. She worked as a caregiver when she got mentally ill.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under experience experiences story stories life life changing mental health mental illness mental health illness mind body brain wellness healthy recovery hope hopeful caregiver psychology psychiatry counseling therapy treatment feeling feelings emotion emotions emotional

51 notes

Patient No. 9413By Roger Cohen, The New York Times
My mother was a woman hollowed out like a tree struck by lightning. I wanted to know why.
Ever since her first suicide attempt, in 1978, when I was 22, I had been trying to fill in gaps. She was gone much of the time in my early childhood, and when she returned nobody spoke about the absence.
I learned much later that she had suffered acute depression after my younger sister’s birth in 1957. She was in hospitals and sanitariums being shot full of insulin — a treatment then in vogue for severe mental disorder — and electricity. The resulting spasms, seizures, convulsions and comas were supposed to jar her from her “puerperal psychosis,” the term then used in England for postpartum depression.
In 1958, my mother was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium, the sprawling Victorian Gothic fantasy of a 19th-century tycoon, Thomas Holloway, who amassed a fortune through the sale of dubious medicinal concoctions. The sanitarium, opened in 1885, was a great heap of gabled redbrick buildings, topped by a tower rising 145 feet into the damp air of Surrey.
Run initially as a private institution, the Holloway Sanatorium became a mental hospital within Britain’s National Health Service after World War II. It was not closed until 1981. Many of its records and casebooks were burned. The gutted building became a setting for horror movies. Directors could not believe their luck. It is now a gated community of luxury homes.
Some records were preserved at the Surrey History Center. In the faint hope that a trace remained of my mother, I wrote to inquire. My parents had never spoken in any detail of her first depression. A letter came back a few weeks later. References to June Bernice Cohen had been located in the admissions register and in ward reports from July 1958.
These showed that “she was patient number 9413, was admitted on 25th July 1958 and discharged on 12th September 1958.” The ward reports for most of August and September had vanished. I applied under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to see the records.
My re-encounter with my mother involved painstaking negotiation with an archivist. At last I was presented with the weighty register for female patients. Entries are written with fountain pen in cursive script. In columns across the page my mother is identified. “Name: June Bernice COHEN. Ref Number: 9413. Age: 29. Marital Status: Married. Religion: JEW.”
I stared at her age — so young — and at the capitalized entry under religion: “JEW.” The noun form has a weight the adjective, Jewish, lacks. It seems loaded with a monosyllabic distaste, which was redoubled by the strange use of the uppercase. June was not religious. She is the youngest on the page. She is also the only non-Christian.
The first ward notes on my mother read, “History of depression in varying degrees since birth of second child, now fourteen months old. Husband is engaged in medical research. Patient has some private psychotherapy and also modified insulin treatment at St. Mary’s last month, being discharged July 8th. On admission she was depressed, tearful and withdrawn.”
The doctor examining my mother was struck by how “her tension increased remarkably on mention of latest child.” I ran my fingers over the page and paused at “JEW.” I wanted to take a soothing poultice to her face.
On July 28, 1958, my mother was visited by a Dr. Storey. He “confirms diagnosis of post-puerperal depression and advises Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which patient and husband are now willing to accept.”
She first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958. I see my slight young mother with metal plates on either side of her head, flattening her dark curls, her heart racing as her skull is enclosed in a high-voltage carapace. I can almost taste the material wedged in her over-salivating mouth for her to bite on as the current passes.
The treatment was repeated a second time, on Aug. 1, 1958. That was one day before my third birthday. So, at last, that is where she was.
I now have some facts to anchor memory, fragments to fill absence. My mother, who recovered sufficiently to be stable, if fragile, for about 15 years through my childhood and adolescence, would suffer from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, through the latter third of her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 69. The ravages of this condition I observed; the onset of her mental instability I only felt.
The hidden hurts most. Mental illness is still too clouded in taboo. It took me a long time to find where my mother disappeared to. Knowledge in itself resolves nothing, but it helps.
Acceptance — it comes down to that. This is how I came to this point, and to this place, by this looping road, from such anguish, and I am still alive and full of hope.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Patient No. 9413
By Roger Cohen, The New York Times

My mother was a woman hollowed out like a tree struck by lightning. I wanted to know why.

Ever since her first suicide attempt, in 1978, when I was 22, I had been trying to fill in gaps. She was gone much of the time in my early childhood, and when she returned nobody spoke about the absence.

I learned much later that she had suffered acute depression after my younger sister’s birth in 1957. She was in hospitals and sanitariums being shot full of insulin — a treatment then in vogue for severe mental disorder — and electricity. The resulting spasms, seizures, convulsions and comas were supposed to jar her from her “puerperal psychosis,” the term then used in England for postpartum depression.

In 1958, my mother was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium, the sprawling Victorian Gothic fantasy of a 19th-century tycoon, Thomas Holloway, who amassed a fortune through the sale of dubious medicinal concoctions. The sanitarium, opened in 1885, was a great heap of gabled redbrick buildings, topped by a tower rising 145 feet into the damp air of Surrey.

Run initially as a private institution, the Holloway Sanatorium became a mental hospital within Britain’s National Health Service after World War II. It was not closed until 1981. Many of its records and casebooks were burned. The gutted building became a setting for horror movies. Directors could not believe their luck. It is now a gated community of luxury homes.

Some records were preserved at the Surrey History Center. In the faint hope that a trace remained of my mother, I wrote to inquire. My parents had never spoken in any detail of her first depression. A letter came back a few weeks later. References to June Bernice Cohen had been located in the admissions register and in ward reports from July 1958.

These showed that “she was patient number 9413, was admitted on 25th July 1958 and discharged on 12th September 1958.” The ward reports for most of August and September had vanished. I applied under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to see the records.

My re-encounter with my mother involved painstaking negotiation with an archivist. At last I was presented with the weighty register for female patients. Entries are written with fountain pen in cursive script. In columns across the page my mother is identified. “Name: June Bernice COHEN. Ref Number: 9413. Age: 29. Marital Status: Married. Religion: JEW.”

I stared at her age — so young — and at the capitalized entry under religion: “JEW.” The noun form has a weight the adjective, Jewish, lacks. It seems loaded with a monosyllabic distaste, which was redoubled by the strange use of the uppercase. June was not religious. She is the youngest on the page. She is also the only non-Christian.

The first ward notes on my mother read, “History of depression in varying degrees since birth of second child, now fourteen months old. Husband is engaged in medical research. Patient has some private psychotherapy and also modified insulin treatment at St. Mary’s last month, being discharged July 8th. On admission she was depressed, tearful and withdrawn.”

The doctor examining my mother was struck by how “her tension increased remarkably on mention of latest child.” I ran my fingers over the page and paused at “JEW.” I wanted to take a soothing poultice to her face.

On July 28, 1958, my mother was visited by a Dr. Storey. He “confirms diagnosis of post-puerperal depression and advises Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which patient and husband are now willing to accept.”

She first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958. I see my slight young mother with metal plates on either side of her head, flattening her dark curls, her heart racing as her skull is enclosed in a high-voltage carapace. I can almost taste the material wedged in her over-salivating mouth for her to bite on as the current passes.

The treatment was repeated a second time, on Aug. 1, 1958. That was one day before my third birthday. So, at last, that is where she was.

I now have some facts to anchor memory, fragments to fill absence. My mother, who recovered sufficiently to be stable, if fragile, for about 15 years through my childhood and adolescence, would suffer from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, through the latter third of her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 69. The ravages of this condition I observed; the onset of her mental instability I only felt.

The hidden hurts most. Mental illness is still too clouded in taboo. It took me a long time to find where my mother disappeared to. Knowledge in itself resolves nothing, but it helps.

Acceptance — it comes down to that. This is how I came to this point, and to this place, by this looping road, from such anguish, and I am still alive and full of hope.

For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.
Click Here
 to access original SMI Blog content

Filed under patient psychiatry psychology counseling hospital med meds medication mental health mental illness mental health illness mind body brain wellness healthy treatment recovery hope suicide suicidal inpatient depression depressed depressing history therapy therapist

73 notes

Suicide Prevention for All: Making the World a Safer Place to Be HumanBy Leah Harris, Mad in America
Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times?
– Russell Brand, comedian/actor
Like millions, I am sitting with the fact that one of the funniest people to grace the planet has died by his own hand. Robin Williams’ death has hit people of my generation, Generation X, especially hard. After all, his face flashed often across our childhood screens. Mork and Mindy episodes were a source of solace for me as a little girl, as I bounced around between foster homes and family members’ homes, while my single mother cycled in and out of the state mental hospital, fighting to survive. I could laugh and say “nanu, nanu – shazbot” and “KO” and do the silly hand sign and forget for just a little while about living a life I didn’t ask for.
“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it,” may become one of Robin Williams’ most famous quotes. I was always struck by how he moved so seamlessly between wacky comedy and the most intense dramas. He was so magnificently able to capture the human experience in all its extremes. He threw all that intensity right into our faces, undeniable, raw, frenetic. He showed us our own naked vulnerability and sparks of madness and gave us permission to laugh in the face of all that is wrong in this world.
In the wake of his death, many people are understandably jumping to identify causes. Depending on who you talk to, Robin Williams’ suicide was caused by depression, it was caused by bipolar disorder, it was caused by the drugs, prescription or otherwise. We just don’t know.
As a suicide attempt survivor myself, I can attest that it’s not that easy to find any single cause for the urge to die. It’s true that along with street drugs, SSRI antidepressants and other psych drugs can certainly increase suicide risk in some people. A decade ago, I was one of many who fought and won to get to the FDA to put a black box warning on SSRIs to warn the public of these very real risks. While a drug, legal or illegal, may give us the impetus we wouldn’t otherwise have had to act on suicidal thoughts, for some of us it’s more complex than that.
Our reasons for wanting to die are as varied as our reasons for wanting to live. That, I believe, is the great mystery of suicide.
But I invite us all not to fear the mystery; not to be struck hopeless by it. We can save each other’s lives; better yet, we can find and share reasons to keep on living. If we have 20 seconds, we can share information about a hotline or a warmline. But if we want to really see this horrific epidemic end, we all have to get more involved.
As someone who has looked into the void and longed for it more than once, I can attest that anyone who reaches out in those darkest of times is truly remarkable. It is, tragically, when I am most distressed and most in need of love and acceptance, that I have the hardest time reaching out. This is not an absolution of personal responsibility, because we all must accept some measure of that; rather a recognition that we shouldn’t put the full onus on a suicidal person to “reach out” and “ask for help.” We need to reach out and help. I have written about the problems with the master narrative of suicide prevention, and how punitive and dehumanizing much of the “help” out there currently is. This blog isn’t about that. I’m talking about help that heals.
My point is that we must change the way we relate to ourselves and one another. In revolutionary ways. We must wake up to the fact that we have been socialized since birth to hide the fullness of who we really are. Robin Williams got to act it all out and the world loved him for it. He expressed the madness, the wildness, that we have been conditioned to hide. We are generally chastised for laughing too hard or crying too loud or being too sensitive. We have been trained to put on a proper face and act like all is well. If for some reason we can’t naturally do that (and most of us can’t), we devise ways to cope with the awful unbearableness of it all. They may be fairly innocuous, like binge watching Orange is the New Black in bed all weekend long. Or we may seek to stop the pain in innumerable ways that we know will kill us in the end — from binge eating to chain smoking to staring down a bottle of whiskey or pills.
If we only realized just how many people walked around carrying heavy burdens that are invisible to the world, and were doing every fucking thing possible to keep from cracking under the weight, we would stop feeling so alone and isolated carrying our own. We could put down our burdens and rest, in the all-encompassing field of our human vulnerability and strength.
“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle,” said theologian Ian MacLaren. I am struck by the imperative need for us all to take up the challenge to be kinder to ourselves and others. There is so much suffering in the world. How often do we ask ourselves, in the midst of responding to Facebook posts, Tweets, and emails: how can I relieve suffering? At the very least, how do I not add to it?
No one person can fix this mess we have gotten ourselves into as a species, but we can each be a part of bringing more compassion and acceptance into the world. First, we have to learn to practice it with ourselves. We can be the antidote to the fear and sorrow that exists within us, in other people, and in the world “out there.” Kindness is dismissed as bullshit in a world that values power over others. But as mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg reminds us, kindness is a “force.” If unleashed in vast quantities, it could literally reverse the cycle of misery on this planet.
When will we stop walking around in these miraculous, vulnerable human bodies seeing ourselves as separate? What will it take for us to realize our interconnectedness; to act from a deep understanding that suicidal people are not to be feared and judged, but to be embraced and held in the light of understanding and true empathy? Empathy sees that we are all connected, and thus demands well-being for all.
I think of the people who report walking to the bridge and said to themselves, “if one person smiles at me or talks to me, I won’t jump.” Lately I try to go out of my way to smile at people, to talk to people, even if they look at me funny because they aren’t used to random strangers smiling at them or talking to them. Come to think of it, I think talking to strangers is definitely a symptom of some severe mental disorder in the DSM-V.
But seriously, folks. It strikes me that breaking down our collective walls of isolation, of chiseling away our carefully constructed masks, of taking care of ourselves and each other, of judging less and loving more, may be among the most important things we can do with our lives. We can simply value people, not for what they do or what they achieve in the world, but because they are alive on this planet with us, right now, sharing these troubled, turbulent and painfully beautiful times.
In the end, we are stunningly diverse, yet there are basic human needs that we all have in common. The ancient practice of lovingkindness exhorts us to wish for ourselves and all beings to be safe, to be healthy, to be free, to live with ease. How can we create a world where these universal human needs are met? I think this is one of the primary questions we should all be asking ourselves right now, and figuring out the answers together.
I don’t claim that smiling at the person who makes your coffee or talking to a stranger on the metro will save the planet. What I do believe is that if we all made human connection, safety, and a sense of shared belonging among our top priorities, if we all tried in ways large and small to end our collective isolation and suffering, this world would be a safer place to be human. And a lot of people might not be eager to leave so soon.
Nanu, nanu, Robin Williams. Rest in peace.
For more mental health resources, Click Here to access the Serious Mental Illness Blog.Click Here to access original SMI Blog content

Suicide Prevention for All: Making the World a Safer Place to Be Human
By Leah Harris, Mad in America

Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times?

– Russell Brand, comedian/actor

Like millions, I am sitting with the fact that one of the funniest people to grace the planet has died by his own hand. Robin Williams’ death has hit people of my generation, Generation X, especially hard. After all, his face flashed often across our childhood screens. Mork and Mindy episodes were a source of solace for me as a little girl, as I bounced around between foster homes and family members’ homes, while my single mother cycled in and out of the state mental hospital, fighting to survive. I could laugh and say “nanu, nanu – shazbot” and “KO” and do the silly hand sign and forget for just a little while about living a life I didn’t ask for.

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it,” may become one of Robin Williams’ most famous quotes. I was always struck by how he moved so seamlessly between wacky comedy and the most intense dramas. He was so magnificently able to capture the human experience in all its extremes. He threw all that intensity right into our faces, undeniable, raw, frenetic. He showed us our own naked vulnerability and sparks of madness and gave us permission to laugh in the face of all that is wrong in this world.

In the wake of his death, many people are understandably jumping to identify causes. Depending on who you talk to, Robin Williams’ suicide was caused by depression, it was caused by bipolar disorder, it was caused by the drugs, prescription or otherwise. We just don’t know.

As a suicide attempt survivor myself, I can attest that it’s not that easy to find any single cause for the urge to die. It’s true that along with street drugs, SSRI antidepressants and other psych drugs can certainly increase suicide risk in some people. A decade ago, I was one of many who fought and won to get to the FDA to put a black box warning on SSRIs to warn the public of these very real risks. While a drug, legal or illegal, may give us the impetus we wouldn’t otherwise have had to act on suicidal thoughts, for some of us it’s more complex than that.

Our reasons for wanting to die are as varied as our reasons for wanting to live. That, I believe, is the great mystery of suicide.

But I invite us all not to fear the mystery; not to be struck hopeless by it. We can save each other’s lives; better yet, we can find and share reasons to keep on living. If we have 20 seconds, we can share information about a hotline or a warmline. But if we want to really see this horrific epidemic end, we all have to get more involved.

As someone who has looked into the void and longed for it more than once, I can attest that anyone who reaches out in those darkest of times is truly remarkable. It is, tragically, when I am most distressed and most in need of love and acceptance, that I have the hardest time reaching out. This is not an absolution of personal responsibility, because we all must accept some measure of that; rather a recognition that we shouldn’t put the full onus on a suicidal person to “reach out” and “ask for help.” We need to reach out and help. I have written about the problems with the master narrative of suicide prevention, and how punitive and dehumanizing much of the “help” out there currently is. This blog isn’t about that. I’m talking about help that heals.

My point is that we must change the way we relate to ourselves and one another. In revolutionary ways. We must wake up to the fact that we have been socialized since birth to hide the fullness of who we really are. Robin Williams got to act it all out and the world loved him for it. He expressed the madness, the wildness, that we have been conditioned to hide. We are generally chastised for laughing too hard or crying too loud or being too sensitive. We have been trained to put on a proper face and act like all is well. If for some reason we can’t naturally do that (and most of us can’t), we devise ways to cope with the awful unbearableness of it all. They may be fairly innocuous, like binge watching Orange is the New Black in bed all weekend long. Or we may seek to stop the pain in innumerable ways that we know will kill us in the end — from binge eating to chain smoking to staring down a bottle of whiskey or pills.

If we only realized just how many people walked around carrying heavy burdens that are invisible to the world, and were doing every fucking thing possible to keep from cracking under the weight, we would stop feeling so alone and isolated carrying our own. We could put down our burdens and rest, in the all-encompassing field of our human vulnerability and strength.

“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle,” said theologian Ian MacLaren. I am struck by the imperative need for us all to take up the challenge to be kinder to ourselves and others. There is so much suffering in the world. How often do we ask ourselves, in the midst of responding to Facebook posts, Tweets, and emails: how can I relieve suffering? At the very least, how do I not add to it?

No one person can fix this mess we have gotten ourselves into as a species, but we can each be a part of bringing more compassion and acceptance into the world. First, we have to learn to practice it with ourselves. We can be the antidote to the fear and sorrow that exists within us, in other people, and in the world “out there.” Kindness is dismissed as bullshit in a world that values power over others. But as mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg reminds us, kindness is a “force.” If unleashed in vast quantities, it could literally reverse the cycle of misery on this planet.

When will we stop walking around in these miraculous, vulnerable human bodies seeing ourselves as separate? What will it take for us to realize our interconnectedness; to act from a deep understanding that suicidal people are not to be feared and judged, but to be embraced and held in the light of understanding and true empathy? Empathy sees that we are all connected, and thus demands well-being for all.

I think of the people who report walking to the bridge and said to themselves, “if one person smiles at me or talks to me, I won’t jump.” Lately I try to go out of my way to smile at people, to talk to people, even if they look at me funny because they aren’t used to random strangers smiling at them or talking to them. Come to think of it, I think talking to strangers is definitely a symptom of some severe mental disorder in the DSM-V.

But seriously, folks. It strikes me that breaking down our collective walls of isolation, of chiseling away our carefully constructed masks, of taking care of ourselves and each other, of judging less and loving more, may be among the most important things we can do with our lives. We can simply value people, not for what they do or what they achieve in the world, but because they are alive on this planet with us, right now, sharing these troubled, turbulent and painfully beautiful times.

In the end, we are stunningly diverse, yet there are basic human needs that we all have in common. The ancient practice of lovingkindness exhorts us to wish for ourselves and all beings to be safe, to be healthy, to be free, to live with ease. How can we create a world where these universal human needs are met? I think this is one of the primary questions we should all be asking ourselves right now, and figuring out the answers together.

I don’t claim that smiling at the person who makes your coffee or talking to a stranger on the metro will save the planet. What I do believe is that if we all made human connection, safety, and a sense of shared belonging among our top priorities, if we all tried in ways large and small to end our collective isolation and suffering, this world would be a safer place to be human. And a lot of people might not be eager to leave so soon.

Nanu, nanu, Robin Williams. Rest in peace.

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