Mental illness doesn't only happen to nameless, faceless people. It can happen to anyone at any time. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care if you are a president, a writer, an artist or an astronaut. It is an equal opportunity disease. It has touched all of our lives in some way, either directly or indirectly.
If you have ever read a book by Ernest Hemingway or listened to the music of Kurt Cobain, you have been touched by someone who had a mental illness. If you know that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president and Terry Bradshaw played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, you have known of someone with a mental illness. Perhaps you like Maurice Benard on General Hospital or you saw Greg Louganis in the 1988 Olympics. Both have a brain disorder known as mental illness. Winston Churchill, Buzz Aldrin, Virginia Wolff, Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, Carrie Fisher, Lionel Aldridge, Leo Tolstoy, Michelangelo, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Piersall, John Keats, Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Pauley, Patty Duke, Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Tennessee Williams, Mike Wallace, Tipper Gore, Princess Dianna, and Sen. Patrick Kennedy all enriched our lives while living with a mental illness.
Perhaps you have a family member, a friend, or a fiancee' with a mental illness. You are not alone. Perhaps you are a caregiver struggling to hang on or to understand their illness. Mental illness, an often isolating illness, affects one in five people. It affects persons of any age, race, religion or socioeconomic status. It affects the entire family. Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders and can disrupt a person's thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.
Mental illnesses are treatable medical conditions. Some of the major diagnoses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and panic disorders, borderline personality disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Many people feel isolated by this illness due to the stigma and misinformation surrounding it. It can be overwhelming.
What I have found is that people are interested in the illnesses affecting their lives, which only makes sense. What I have also found is that those with a mental illness, and those that care for them have developed a great compassion for others also living with a mental illness.
In 2008, we will elect a new president. I wonder if Abraham Lincoln would stand up today and say, "I have a mental illness and I am running for president." Would he be elected? Is it really acceptable to have a mental illness in the United States and be president?
Recently the evening news reported that one half of the soldiers returning from Iraq will have some form of mental illness. Over one million soldiers have already served in Iraq. There are 600 VA mental health professionals employed nationwide. That worries me, and I hope that it worries you also. When the war is over, will they be forgotten? More soldiers that served in the Vietnam War have committed suicide then were actually killed during the Vietnam War. There is more than one way to give your life for your country. This does not have to happen to the soldiers returning from Iraq.
I believe that change begins with one person. You can make a difference.
BEVERLY BROWN is a Walker resident. She is a board member of the Brainerd Lakes Area affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is president of the Western Leech Lake of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
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