A recurring theme I heard when public speaking about mental illness was disbelief. There are a lot of people out there who question why so many people are being diagnosed with mental health issues. They believe our society has gotten weak and desperate for happy pills to make everything rosy. I disagree for many reasons. In the past people with mental health issues were hidden away in attics, lobotomized, locked in asylums and beaten to death. They were also ignored.
My mother’s father was a career Navy man. His work kept him away for months and longer. He was in the Pacific Ocean when my mother was born and didn’t even know she had been born until she was a few months old. A few years later my grandmother had a baby boy who came very early. He lived for only a few days. I can only imagine the emotions my grandmother felt when doctors told her that the Polio which she thought she had defeated had actually damaged her body so much that she should not have any more children. In the years that followed, my grandmother had a lot of accidents. She accidentally fell off a two story retaining wall on their San Francisco military base. She accidentally took entire bottles of pills. Nobody in the family talked about her accidents and doctors certainly didn’t question the accidents. My grandmother spent her life having anxiety attacks and battling depression. She spent her later years increasingly isolating herself from the world. She is now in a nursing home with a diagnosis of dementia. I can’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t have lived a happier life if only she had been given medication, and good therapy. I know it wouldn’t have stopped the dementia but I do believe she would have been lucid for longer. I think she would have been inspired to try and maintain her focus instead of reveling in the escapism of memory loss and confusion. I know my mother wouldn’t have felt so alone and helpless if she had been allowed to have a healthy mother.
The human mind is just as delicate as the human body. It requires care, compassion and frequently, help with healing. There have always been mental illnesses but we are just beginning to learn about how to treat them.