I remember the phone call, like it was yesterday. I was standing in the hallway of our rental home three hours from my hometown. My husband was in his first year as a teacher/coach. I was in my third year of being a wife and Mommy. The children were napping and Jim was at school.
The call….was from the psychiatrist who was able to diagnose what my Mom had been dealing with. Finally, the answer to my Mom’s depression and unusual behavior had a name, Bipolar II disorder. Which is when a person suffers with severe depression and on the flip side, times of hypomania. The reason he called was to not only inform me of what Mom’s illness was, but that it was hereditary.
That was in 1986 and I was soon to learn, that not only did I not understand mental illness neither did the rest of my world. There is a certain stigma which surrounds mental illness. And it was a number of years, before I got past the stigma and understood the illness. And perhaps even longer for me to realize that Bipolar wasn’t my Mom, but an illness she was afflicted with.
I could spend week’s blogging on what the next nineteen years were like for my Mom and our family. But that isn’t the purpose of this post.
The purpose of this post is this.
After the incident in Connecticut on Friday, my mind has been whirling with thoughts about mental illness in this country. I wish I could say that in the last 26 years our nation had advanced in the treatment, education and understanding of mental illnesses. But. I. Can’t.
The endless conversations this weekend have been on gun control. My personal belief is that instead of gun control it needs to be focused on mental health.
My heart aches when we have incidents such as this school shooting and immediately people want to blame the parents. How many different ways have I heard it said, “If the parents had done this or that, the shooter wouldn’t have killed.” We need to stop blaming the parents for children’s mental health disorders. When the parent recognizes something is wrong with their children and they want them to get better, we need to help them get the treatment their child needs.
As a caregiver, I can attest that mental illnesses are anything but simple. And the treatment of them is even harder. Even though we knew the name to my Mom’s illness, it didn’t make the treatment of it easy. Numerous times, I knew Mom needed hospitalization. But because she hadn’t threatened to kill herself or someone else, she could not be admitted for hospitalization. So, I prayed. Held my breath and hoped the episode would pass.
I think about the parents of youth suffering with mental illnesses. How heart wrenching it has to be! How many times have they sought treatment for their child but been turned away because the child had not threatened to harm anyone? Or perhaps they did threaten and by the time they got to the psychiatric unit, had calmed down enough that they couldn’t be admitted.
I have walked through the locked doors, seen the other patients and cried as I left my Mom behind. Only to find out two or three days later that she signed herself out because in her mind she was fine. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if it had been one of my children.
I realize through personal experience that not only does our Nation not understand the illnesses, they don’t understand the barriers to treatment for them. Before our Nation has to grieve the loss of more lives from another school shooting, let’s begin the conversation! Conversations which will bring about the advancement of treatment for mental illnesses in our country!