This article is the introduction to our newly launched website, Facebook and blog. Through these vehicles, we hope to hone in on the critical issues that surround the care and well-being and the rights of individuals with mental illnesses and their families.
The first question is, exactly where do we start? There are so many issues, needs, challenges and priorities related to mental illnesses and mental health. Determining what should be in this first article was a challenge in itself. There are needs of children, veterans, the elderly, families, those in the corrections system, the work force, schools, those in rural areas, and the list goes on and on and on.
After giving this a great deal of thought, I thought it best to start with a very simple question:
What does it mean to have a mental illness? The reason I am starting here is that before professionals can help persons with mental disorders; before families can support them; before spouses can love them; before children can feel comfortable around them; before employers can work with them; and before teachers can teach them, they all have to have some semblance of understanding of the individual and some understanding as to how it feels to have a mental illness. Even before we attempt to define mental illnesses, understanding the experience of the people must come first.
This article starts with my own perceptions that come from 27 years of working with, listening to, and talking with, thousands of people with mental illnesses. We welcome your comments, insights, questions, opinions, and facts, and we value differing views. In fact, we need them.
What those with mental illnesses say
First, it’s important to stress that the population of persons with mental illnesses is not a homogeneous group. To assume that all people with mental illnesses feel the same, want all the same things, and have all the same issues and barriers would be an injustice to all of them. But there tends to be similarities for many of those who are struggling the most.
Words like empty, lonely, confused, fearful, hopeless, lost, helpless, frustrated, fatigued, and angry, are often heard when you ask a person with a mental illness, “How do you feel?”
As for goals, I have yet to meet a single person with a mental illness who had no goals. Sometimes it can take time for the person who is devastatingly impacted by severe symptoms to get in touch with even the concept of having goals, let alone, knowing what they are, but the goals are still there.
If you ask them what they hope to get out of life, they will tell you things like…”I want to…
- …get or keep a job
- …get through school
- …have friends
- …connect with family
- …cope with symptoms
- …overcome fear of failure
- …overcome fear of success
- …get married
- …use their talents
- …deal with intense emotions
- …be happy
- …be safe
- …be respected
- …have a home
- …have a car
- …do something meaningful
All these are goals that they often face.
These are the very same goals and dreams that most of us have, and attaining them can be challenging, but when one is dealing with a severe mental illness, the challenges can be compounded.
According to national statistics, 1 in 5 people have a mental disorder and 1 in 17 have a severe mental illness. The prevalence is huge. It means that in most every classroom, club, sports team, business, congregation, and even in most every family, you will find at least one person, and probably more, with a mental disorder.
Yet even though so many people are struggling with these illnesses, there are huge unmet needs, the stigma persists, families don’t know what to do, and those with mental illnesses, too often, are left feeling alienated and isolated, but often hesitant to seek out services.