A Deadly Silence

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Today, in Canada, Bell Media is sponsoring something called “Let’s Talk” in an effort to raise awareness and to help erase the stigmas attached to mental illness.  When researching this 2nd annual event, I found that there are a multitude of different “mental health” or “mental illness” awareness days. 

A very small sampling (Canada):

  •  February 8 – Bell’s “Let’s Talk” 
  • Sept. 30-Oct. 6 – Mental Illness Awareness Week
  • May 7 – 13 – Canadian Mental Health Association Awareness Week

The above doesn’t even include initiatives by various universities across the country which all have different schedules.  And, the U.S. schedule is completely different.

My question is:  Why aren’t we talking about this all the time?

Because: 

In the “good old days,” no one talked about mental illness regardless of socio-economic rank.  The poor were affected more visibly only because the wealthy families had the means to shove their mentally ill family members into expensive institutions.

Here’s a snapshot of my own family:

  • I have an aunt I didn’t know existed until I was a young adult; she was institutionalized when she was 18, 
  • My grandmother,described as “the laziest woman ever born,” would take to her bed for weeks at a time; she suffered from crippling depression and anxiety,
  • In the late 1950’s, well-meaning(?) doctors prescribed alcohol for my brother as a means of silencing the voices he began hearing  – leading to a lifetime battle with alcohol (never mind the schizophrenia),
  • My sister, later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, was always described as “excitable” or “high-strung.”  Talking about her violent mood swings & impulsive behaviour was strongly discouraged,
  • Another aunt (different side of the family) was always described as “difficult,” or “eccentric”  even after she tried to harm her child.  No one knows whether help was offered or even available.  The child committed suicide as an adult,
  • I was told: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Pull yourself together” during bouts of severe depression in my youth.  Thankfully, my method of coping was only chronic napping.

We never talked about mental illness.  The stigma was so great, relatives would vanish from sight or die and the silence was deafening.  Mental illness did all the talking in our family.  Now, with increased awareness, hopefully the suffering can stop or at least be diagnosed and treated. 

My brother, who has always danced along the fence separating genius from insanity, has crossed forever into the shady realm of delusion.  In his increasingly rare lucid moments, he talks candidly about his illness.  He acknowledges that our parents never did – “Sweetie, no one talked about it in those days.”  Our sister is dead.  I was lucky enough to have healthcare; the Black Dog has been trained to heel.  But, I lie awake at night and worry for my children; I’ll be honest, I over-analyze every mood swing (which does nothing to alleviate my generalized anxiety disorder). 

We talk about their aunt and uncle; however, there are family members who wish we wouldn’t.  We talk about the fact that when Mommy gets sad and can’t stop crying she goes to the doctor and gets help.  We don’t hide it.  We don’t pretend these things don’t exist.  No one is “delicate” or “high-strung” around here.  We call the demons out and we challenge them to duals.

So yes, talk about it.  Because silence can be deafening and it can also be deadly.

 

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