Monday, March 30, 2015

Mental Illness: saying, “get over it” Doesn't Work Remove The Stigma and Treat It Like a True Illness

By Nancy Lacy Kixmiller
Guest Blogger
Nancy Lacy Kixmiller is the proud mom of a 17 year old son and retired music teacher. She loves her family (close, extended, in-laws, "outlaws" included) her faith and her little town (Prairie Home, MO pop 281).

It is high time we start talking about mental illness in our society. According to the American Psychological Association (, more than 45 million adults have some sort of mental illness. Over 8.9 million have both a mental and substance abuse disorder (i.e. alcoholism). Those are some staggering statistics, yet we don't seem to talk openly about it.
Consider this: Bipolar disorder is a chronic medical condition in much the same way that diabetes is a chronic medical condition. One of the conditions that can affect someone with diabetes is blindness. Not all people with diabetes are blind and not all of those who are blind have diabetes.
Now, replace the word "diabetes" with "bipolar disorder", "blindness" with "alcoholism", and "blind" with "alcoholics" and you get: One of the conditions that can affect someone with bipolar disorder is alcoholism. Not all people with bipolar disorder are alcoholics and not all of those who are alcoholics have bipolar disorder.
My son recently lost his father, Kyle, who also happened to be my ex-husband. I have maintained a close relationship with my former in-laws because I felt like it was important for my son and they are really great people. I wanted to do something to help during this horrible, trying time so I volunteered to write Kyle's obituary.
I knew that I wanted to capture the essence of the sweet, funny man I had married and the father my son adored. I wrote about Kyle's family and school life, his love of community theater, and his work experience. I also included the words “bipolar disorder and alcoholism”. I finished my draft and sent it to his family to use or not as they saw fit. Kyle's brother-in-law wrote the second draft and kept most of what I had written. He wrote “Kyle fought a long battle with bipolar disorder and alcoholism.” The brother-in-law also added “He regularly attended AA.” The second draft of the obituary was edited via the Internet by Kyle's sister, nephew, stepmother, brother-in-law and I. No one ever considered not mentioning Kyle's illness. He suffered from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. That is a fact. By including that he regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous, we felt we showed that he was trying to get better. The final draft was shared via Facebook and email.
The Celebration of Life for Kyle included reference to bipolar disorder and alcoholism, because it was a part of him. But it also included “Amazing Grace”, three nephews eulogizing the uncle they adored, wonderful memories, and words of comfort and hope. The service ended with Monty Python's “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, which had the congregation singing and whistling along through tears. It was just the kind of service Kyle would have wanted
One of the things I do in life is submit local news articles for two area newspapers. Most newspapers only take obituaries submitted by funeral homes, but perhaps as a courtesy to me or as a matter of policy, they accepted and printed an edited version of the obituary I sent them. Neither newspaper included the references to bipolar disorder, alcoholism or AA. I know that was a conscious choice by one newspaper and suspect it was a choice of the other newspaper as well – the second newspaper included almost every word of the obituary I submitted, only omitting the references to bipolar disorder, alcoholism and AA.

Bipolar disorder cost Kyle his marriage, his job, his physical health and, ultimately, his life at the age of 52. While he did not end his own life, there is no doubt that bipolar disorder was the root cause of his untimely demise.
I am grieving all over again for the marriage that ended ten years ago and for the loss of my son's father. I am angry that we only talk about mental illness in hushed tones. I am sad that I didn't understand Kyle's behavior better and had no idea where to look for resources to help. I am angry for all the heartache caused to Kyle's father and other family members because Kyle “just couldn't get his act together”. I am so angry that Kyle won't be at our son's high school graduation next year, or any of the other milestones in our son's life.
But my anger is no longer directed at Kyle, as it was for so many years. My anger is at a society that tells someone who is suffering from depression to “get over it”. Would you tell a diabetic to ignore the need for insulin? Would you tell someone with asthma that he could get by without an inhaler if he really wanted to? Mental illness is no different. It is not the sufferer's fault and that is so difficult to understand....believe me, I know just how difficult. Unfortunately, the nature of mental illness is such that someone suffering from mental illness may go off his/her medication because he/she feels that he/she no longer needs it. Then the cycle perpetuates itself, on and on and on.
We have to stop discussing bipolar disorder (and other mental illnesses) as if it's a failure of character, something for the whole family to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition from which millions of Americans, including journalist Jane Pauley and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones suffer. Mental illness cost comedian Robin Williams his life. When we bring mental illness out of the darkness and into the light, healing can begin. Families dealing with mentally ill relatives can get the support they need and medical breakthroughs will lead to a cure for an illness that harms so many lives. We need to talk about it. Maybe one place to start is by printing it in obituaries when families ask for it to be printed.‪#‎removethestigma‬

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