I took part in a Twitter chat last night that debated the seemingly obvious impact of physical health issues on mental health issues, and vice versa. I say obvious, because it was obvious to everyone there. Unfortunately, the audience consisted of mental health professionals and mental health services consumers. As we confirmed that many GPs and specialists don’t understand the side effects or even the implications of treatment plans for chronic physical illness on mental health, I just became discouraged, because the people who needed to hear the message just weren’t there.
It’s been a tough week for most people with mental health issues as one of our best and brightest, Robin Williams, lost his fight with depression. I can’t comment on it with any authority as 1) what happened that day was between Robin and his Creator, and 2) I don’t have the heart to read all the media commentaries, or even the memes doing the rounds with quotes from this brilliant man and the characters he played. People are watching his movies again, and I can’t even think about that right now. Just watching 5 minutes of Robin playing with Koko the gorilla broke my heart.
Everyone has an opinion – some people call his death a waste, some are mad with him for taking that route. I can’t feel any of those things. For over 36 years, Robin Williams entertained us and made us laugh and cry. He doesn’t owe us anything. I doubt any of us could remotely touch the impact he had on so many lives, as witenessed by all the despair and deep emotion after his death. As for being mad, having been in that place where living seems like a hollow shell of existence, I can’t really blame him for getting tired from the struggle.
That’s the bottom line – in a life where we get by through cultivating numerous tips and tricks in our toolboxes, at the end of the day, we get tired. Robin’s death affected me as it activated a fear I think is so common, particularly among those of us who are getting older and have experienced round after round of this illness. When I first learned about Virginia Woolf’s death in her 5th decade, I thought there truly is no rest for sufferers of mental illness. Robin’s death in his 6th decade just confirms that. How long is it before you think, I just can’t take another round of that bottomless despair? All I feel for Robin, and so many who have gone before us now, is compassion for the depth of their suffering.
So what makes me mad is, after so long, we just talk about what’s needed from the mental health profession, and try to work out the motivations of someone who was ill beyond words with the very part of the body that demands reason – the brain – and then we shrug and go on with life.
If depression was brain cancer (which I argue it is), we’d be out there campaigning for a cure and wearing black ribbons and demanding that our politicians do something about it (instead of making empty speeches about his worth after the fact). Instead, it gets shoved in the too-hard basket.
For my part, I will keep finding tools and tips and tricks that help people to live as well as they can with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. As I know so many others will too, especially those who live with these illnesses.
At the discussion last night, one person mentioned that the medical establishment had to lead the way in changing how mental illness is perceived by society as a whole. It was argued that if medical practitioners remain ignorant about mental illness and the potential side effects of their prescriptions and surgeries, then how are we going to get reasoned discussion going among the public at large?
Having hit my head against too many blank looks from doctors, having experienced cruelty and judgement from those who are supposed to be health “care” providers, I don’t feel too optimistic about getting a real dialogue going any time soon amongst those who have the power to change this. I hope I’m wrong. And I apologize that unlike a regular post, I’m unable to come to a brighter conclusion than this.