The Straight Truth about Mental Illnesses & Disorders
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
Alice In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Here in the United States, we have an ever spreading epidemic. The illness effects people from all walks of life. The poor and the wealthy, the Harvard alumni and the high school drop out. This epidemic is mental illness.
It is true that mental illness is a horrible thing, especially for those who suffer its effects and their loved ones. Fortunately, the very prevalence of this illness is causing it to reach a new found level of acceptance instead of the social stigma that a diagnosis carried in the past.
Mental illness is a general term. It can refer to a variety of diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorders and other forms of mental disorders.
In the last 100 years, a person who received a diagnosis of a mental disorder was often the subject of ridicule or pity, hidden off in the corners of an asylum or delegated to anonymity within the family circle. These individuals seldom received the care they needed because the social stigma attached to their conditions left many families with no options but to place the problem as far away from them as possible.
Fortunately, the improvements of medical science and cultural understanding have created a much warmer, safer environment for families to deal with mentally ill loved ones today.
Let me preface my comments by saying that I am not an expert. I am, however, a father of two boys who have very special needs. My youngest son is autistic and my oldest son has multiple diagnosis, including ADHD, acute depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 100 years ago, either of these boys might have lived their lives out in an asylum.
I am happy to say that, even though there is still a great need for education and increased understanding of these and other mental illnesses, the general population of the United States is far more accepting of these conditions today. My youngest son participated in his schools Christmas pageant last Thursday night and you could feel how much he is loved and respected by his classmates and the staff of his private school. He may not have been able to keep perfect pace with the dance routines and lyrics but they appreciated the fact that he took part and did his best.
My oldest boy has been hospitalized for his behavior three times in the past because his behaviors had reached a point of endangering himself and those around him. He has been back home for almost a year now and we are very proud of the advancement he made. He reads everything he can get his hands on and though he struggles with a few subjects, he gets fairly good grades. In the generation past, he might not have had the opportunity to redeem himself and show the world what he can do.
There are many groups dedicated to the advancement of people with mental illness and just as many support groups as well. These advancements are an extreme achievement in my eyes because I can see our culture has come to recognize that, even with mental illnesses, these people deserve the opportunity to be a valuable part of life. They can deliver on the promise of the future.
This statement about delivering on the promise of the future is more than just an idle phrase. Some well known names have already contributed a great deal to our modern world despite their personal suffering with mental illnesses.
Sir Isaac Newton - The man who discovered gravity and was one of the greatest mathematical minds of his time is thought to have suffered from Bipolar Disorder and was a frequent sufferer of nervous breakdowns.
Ludwig Van Beethoven - One of the greatest classical music composers to ever live, Beethoven had a lifelong struggle with Bipolar Disorder that eventually led him to self medicate with Opium and alcohol to gain a small amount of relief from his torment.
Abraham Lincoln - Our sixteenth president, Lincoln, also suffered from acute depression that sometimes led him to the contemplation of suicide. Despite his affliction, he went on to reunite a nation and bring us the United States that is in existence today.
Vincent Van Gogh - A prolific artist, Van Gogh is often the poster child of mental illness. Suffering from both epilepsy and manic episodes, Van Gogh died at the age of 37 from suicide but not before he left the world some of the most beloved artistic masterpieces ever seen.
John Nash - The Phantom of Fine Hall at Princeton, Nash was a mathematical prodigy that suffered from schizophrenia. This young man entered the world of immortality when his antics of sneaking into the empty classrooms of Princeton to leave his mathematical prowess on the unused blackboards was portrayed in the movie, "A Beautiful Mind".
Ernest Hemingway - One of my favorite sculptors of the written word, Hemingway spent a lifetime suffering from bouts of maddening depression which culminated in suicide. He gave us such wonderful stories as The Old Man And The Sea and A Farewell To Arms.
In conclusion, those with mental illnesses can be valuable members of our society. They can provide insights into both the most beautiful and most terrifying aspects of our lives with a clarity that most of us could not imagine. Thankfully, our modern culture has begun to accept these individuals for their gifts, rather than their weaknesses.
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