Monday, December 9, 2013

One Man's Wish

I started writing this on December 8th 2013, the 33rd anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.  I don’t believe in heroes or experts because I’ve been called both and if the bar is set that low, well…..  But John Lennon was a significant part of my life and his death was very hard to deal with at the time. I still mourn him to this day.

John Lennon suffered from depression.  It’s evident by some of the songs he wrote; Help, Yer Blues and I’m So Tired.  Brian Epstein’s death, the making of Sgt. Pepper album and the White album were a very low periods of his life as were the 70’s

Many speculate during his five years as a house husband he was extremely depressed, I can’t speak to that.  But depression ebbs and flows and I’m sure he had some happy times being a Beatle, a solo artist and a house husband.  May many of you find the Peace and Love John Lennon encouraged all of us to find during his life.

What this is about really is a Second Life (SL) Friend named Josh.  Now I don’t know a lot about him personally.  I’m assuming he is a young man, I know he suffers from a mental illness, he is an activist for improved mental health care starting and running the Mental Health Awareness Retreat on SL and he supports many efforts by others to do the same thing including my efforts writing this blog for which I thank you.

Josh I would like to say is an idealist, while I’m jaded and cynical after what I have been through for over three decades.  We seem to take the two parts of the late Senator Robert Kennedy’s question.

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why...”  This would be me. “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” this I look at as Josh.  Josh recently wrote an article which in this piece I’m using to point out a few things. You can view in its entirety at and I urge you to do so.  The piece is asking as Senator Kennedy did “why not.”

It’s a very good article and I wish him luck in achieving all he wishes, it would be a big help for all of us with mental illness, but this being the Christmas season, not the holiday season, I’m going to be a bit of a Grinch.  I mean nothing personal Josh.

Quoting “I wish people came together and spoke about mental health like they do cancer and HIV. How people come together for gay rights and civil rights. Organizations joining forces together for the common goal of one cause, knowing there is power in unity.”  Josh I agree 100% that has been my hope since the 1970’s.   If you had told me things would have changed for the worst by 2013 I wouldn’t have believed you.  I spoke out as soon as I could in an effort to educate, I am not an activist I don’t have the patience for it. I felt and still feel education is the key to understanding mental health and mental illness.  To my dismay many people refuse to even listen.

Regretfully most mental illness cannot be quantified like you can with cancer, heart disease or diabetes and this is a huge stumbling block.  With those people can see physical changes, see the pain, the chemo, and the radiation lines.  People can see these diseases waste a person away and it gives some of them a cause to work on.  I’ve been sick for over 30 years but there is nothing to see.  People see me and I look normal so to them I’m just fine when in fact if left untreated I have a terminal disease.

Quoting “When it comes to mental health…... People are ashamed to spread awareness because "omg people are going to think I'm crazy..I'm a loony...I'm pathetic"….. They tend to not even advocate due to the high stigma and discrimination of the illness.” 

Some people tend not to advocate because of the possible cost to their personal lives.  I spoke out about my depression to medical people at first.  Paramedics and nurses who I thought would have a high understanding of depression yet they had none!   I was immediately looked at in different way that is hard to describe.  After 17 years of working as a Paramedic I had a crisis where my anger overcame my common sense.  My career, all the good work I’d done, all the rules I followed all the excellence I tried to achieve was gone.  I was immediately told I was disabled and lost my job. 

Working hard to get off disability and go back my job I found that people with mental illness do not get second chances from employers.  On the other side of the coin a Paramedic can drive an ambulance extremely intoxicated or have several DUI’s on their record or be a convicted child molester yet it seems there is a second chance for everyone except me.  There is no second chance for the mentally ill.

Regrettably to protect myself at my next job I never said a word about my depression.  After consulting with my doctor its advice that I give today in my talks, I tell young students never to say a word to their employer or anyone else that they don’t absolutely trust that they have a mental illness such as depression.  I do that for the student’s own protection.  In a survey it was found that one in four employers will not even consider hiring a person with history of mental illness.  The condition might be being managed but many will not hire you.

A similar point was raised with; “People tend to hide…... They tend to not even advocate due to the high stigma and discrimination of the illness.” Again some people need to hide and are unable to advocate, the subject is just too volatile.  They may lose their job, marriage, and friends.  I know I’ve lost two jobs, one marriage and countless friends.  It’s a catch 22.  Keep quiet and suffer or teach and advocate and be ready for the backlash.  When asked by a student why I talk about my depression yet advise the class against it, I simply looked at her and said in a rather weary voice “I have nothing to lose anymore.”

Quoting “But was even worse is that organizations fight each other. Instead of coming together for the cause they attack one another of whose better and yet many are not doing what they are suppose to do...focus on mental health!”  Josh, a truer statement could not be uttered.  For example NAMI disgusts me!  In my opinion they do nothing for people with mental illness and in my research I found that 50% of the donations they receive are used for their expenses.  Not for educating or advocating.  Among like-minded groups NAMI had the lowest rating in how they handle their money to actually help people. 

Wishfully I would like to see all these groups band together and do what they say they are in business for, advocating for the mentally ill.  Patrick Kennedy is roaming the country calling still for equal health insurance coverage for the mentally ill.  It’s the law but it’s not being followed.  Where is NAMI, Mental Health America, SAVE and a whole host of other groups that could help?  NAMI is a 50 state organization, why isn’t someone from NAMI in the statehouse of every state when it is in session?  Why isn’t there more advocacy from just this one group?

Quoting “I started to advocate for mental health because I am! Mentally ill and you have no idea how much abuse I have seen. From "doctors" (if you can call them that after the abuse), therapist, and those involved in helping the mentally ill to family members, friends, and society in general.”  The sad thing Josh is that mental health care has gotten worse since I began treatment in the 1980’s. 

Recently, states were rated on the quality of mental health care they provided.  There were 6 B’s, 18 C’s, 21 D’s and 6 F’s.  No A’s and only 6 B’s are among 50 states. (I know that equals 51 but I checked from several sources). I used A as a 5 and F as a 1 coming up with an average grade among the 50 states as 2.52 or a D.  That, in my mind makes the USA a 3rd world country in mental health care.   The first thing advocates must do is to get the quality of mental health care back to the 1980’s.  Yes we need go back to the future 30 years to get improvement then hope to improve further from there.

Quoting “No matter what happens from here on, I will continue to do my best to raise awareness and provide resources for mental health even if it's not via second life's platform and I hope that you (the readers) will also take a stand and rise up, raise awareness for mental health, talk about mental health, provide resources and come together for the common goal of one change the outlook on mental health from a negative view to a positive view.”

“I hope that you (the readers) will also take a stand” I hope those who can will.  In my opinion the attitudes about people with depression haven’t changed in 30 years.  Yet in 30 years AA and their friends have managed to highly educate the public and treat alcoholics properly.  People can now say I’ve been sober for 2 years and be applauded.  If I tell someone I’ve been out of the hospital for 7 years because I have had no thoughts of suicide I’d probably just get funny looks.

I guess I wasn’t as big a Grinch as I thought I might be.  We do have sticking points though.  The biggest being that I believe there is a good reason for some to not talk about their mental health.  Josh, while I do agree with Dr. King whom you cited that "There is power in unity and there is power in numbers" I’m not sure how to get that unity or those number.  For Dr. King what he needed and got was Rosa Parks, a black woman who would not give up her seat on a bus to a white man because she was tired of giving in to the system.

Someday, someone, somewhere may do exactly that.  Get tired of giving into the system and make some noise.  Then someone like you Josh or another will have a platform to push for education, fairness and equal and good medical care for one fourth of the population in any given year, the mentally ill.

Josh I wish you the greatest of luck that everything you wrote will happen.  A small warning if I may, I’ve been educating for thirty or so years often to deaf ears.  You have a long uphill climb ahead of you but the good news is things you say and do will stick with some people.  While many cannot speak of their mental illness for reasons I cited above many more can and do.  Many people work hard to try to educate and advocate because they can.  You honor one every month and I’m sure it’s a difficult choice.  I hope someday more of us can speak of mental illness without fear and to a more enlightened population.  That will be amazing progress.
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