Monday, January 28, 2019

I Have a Dream

One out of five (or one out of four, depending on the source) individuals live with a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. The population of the U.S. in 2017 was 325 million people. So that means that 65 million people are dealing with some kind of mental health disorder right now. Whether it be more common disorders like anxiety or depression, or more serious conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (which yours truly lives with), the numbers are staggering. Add to this the number of people dealing with addiction and co-occurring disorders, this figure grows. What it all boils down to is that many of us will deal with some kind of mental health challenge in our lifetime.

A couple of weeks ago was the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King had a prophetic vision of a day when all people would be able to live together in peace. I too have a dream: a day when people no longer have to suffer from mental disorders.

In my experience as a person with lived experience as well as working in the field of addiction, mental health, and advocacy, I have heard countless stories of struggle and triumph over conditions that at times seem to be insurmountable. Many times its from family members who are confused, frustrated, and even angry about their loved ones circumstance.

One thing I say is that having a mental health condition is not the person’s fault. Would you expect a person to ask to have a heart attack or live with cancer? I think not. Why should mental illness be any different?

There’s a song by the group R.E.M. called “Everybody Hurts.” There are lyrics in the piece that speak of the struggle go through:

“When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes”
(Michael Stipe)

These words speak to the core of what many people deal with, whether it be individuals themselves living with mental health conditions or their loved ones. Mental illness does not discriminate and can leave relationships wrecked in its wake. The thing that makes it so difficult is that often people lack information on resources as well as having to face the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. I have a dream that one day people will no longer suffer in the dark abyss of mental illness.

One simple solution is empathy, the unspoken language of unconditional regard and understanding. If people were able to demonstrate more empathy then maybe, just maybe, those who are affected by mental disorders could get the support that is necessary to embark on the road to recovery.

Yes, I have a dream but this is one that can become a reality. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” (John Lennon)