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This post is close to my heart since it details my friend’s experience with mental illness. I have changed details of her story, including name and background, for privacy purposes. My intent is to encourage constructive dialogue about mental illness. Hopefully this will lead to people understanding and helping those that suffer from mental illness.
Recently my friend, (I will call her Stacy); had a nervous breakdown and her husband placed her in a residential mental illness treatment facility or as she called it, “a crazy house!” I don’t like using that phrase but Stacy says, “Calling the crazy house, a mental illness facility sounds like it’s a nice place to go, which is not the Hell I experienced.”
Doctors diagnosed Stacy with bipolar and anxiety disorders. She never had any symptoms of either of these disorders until three days before being checked in for treatment. Stacy’s husband had to admit her since for three days she had not slept, was in a hyper state where she couldn’t sit still, and was hearing voices. Her husband was scared for her, himself and their children.
Being mentally ill and at the crazy house has changed her life forever. Patients walking around loudly babbling gibberish or rocking in corners, mumbling constantly really scared the crap out of her. Especially, since she had turned into one of those patients. She began popping lots of pills doctors gave her. Stacy walked around in a stupor until one day she decided not to take the pills, (unknown to the doctors.)
I later found out that women suffer from depression more than men. The World Health Organization states that women suffer from anxiety and depression more than men. Which means that women will be prescribed medicine that may cause side effects.
Food served wasn’t nutritious and exercise wasn’t allowed. She was even discouraged from doing a simple Yoga child’s pose in her room. I was floored when Stacy told me this since I know that good nutrition is important for good health and good brain function. And exercise releases endorphins which helps mental illness symptoms. Eventually, she had her husband bring healthy food which helped her. Then after two months she was able to leave the mental illness facility and started seeing a psychiatrist twice a week.
She decided not to tell most of her friends except for me and two other close friends. She doesn’t want to lose family, friends, or her important job. I understand about keeping this information from her employer. But if friends and family go away when you tell them about a serious problem then they weren’t real friends or family anyway.
After several months I visited Stacy who lives out of town. Stacy planned for us to go to a theatrical performance. We talked as Stacy finished getting dressed in a beautiful black dress. She suddenly got quiet and looked down at her dress, then looked at me in a strange way. Then she said something that really stuck with me: “I don’t look crazy, but I guess I am. I can wear a pretty dress and look good, but no one knows that I’m crazy.” And she doesn’t look crazy. Stacy is a successful business executive, happily married, with several kids. She’s the type that people wouldn’t think has a mental illness. She’s beautiful, intelligent, well dressed, glamorous, vivacious, the life of the party. I thought about what she said deeply and realized that crazy isn’t necessarily a babbling, disheveled man pacing on the street corner. Crazy can be a pretty, well-dressed woman.
What Does A Crazy Person Look Like?
Can you tell which person walking down the street is mentally ill? Besides being a well-dressed woman, a mentally ill person can be anyone:
- A school teacher
- Stay-at-home mom
- Your grandmother
Mental illness affects many people I know. I have several friends that have various types of mental illnesses ranging from panic attacks, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of them function normally at a high level and are high achievers. And then there are some that have serious problems with day-to-day life. People that don’t know them often think they’re strange, alcoholics, or drug addicts. Holding a regular job is hard or impossible. Raising their kids is a struggle. Having a normal marriage is a nightmare. Loving and appreciating themselves is very hard to do. I’m supportive of them no matter what and think no less of them because of their mental illness.
Many successful and talented people deal with mental illness. Psychologists and other experts have studied and discussed this frequently, noting that creative people and geniuses have a tendency to have mental illness. There is a lot unknown as to why this is. All I know is that some of the best literature has come from writers that had depression issues and ultimately committed suicide—like Jack London and Ernest Hemingway. Many actors and musicians suffer from mental illness. Recently, actress Catherine Zeta Jones has publicly discussed her struggle with depression.
If we stop calling people crazy and start having honest and open dialogue about mental illness then we will have a deeper understanding of something that affects many people. The same way we talk publicly about helping people with heart disease and cancer is the same way we should talk and help people with mental illness.
Psychiatry and Drugs
I’m against psychiatry for most people. I’m not saying all psychiatrists are bad. Obviously in extreme cases like suicide attempts and schizophrenia, medications have to be taken. However, most mentally ill people are not aware of other treatment options besides taking medication. If patients are aware of all options then they can make a more informed decision as to if taking psychotropic drugs is the best thing to do. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking people that take psychotropic drugs. They should do what works best for them. I’m pointing out that medication isn’t the only treatment method to use.
I wish more psychiatrists would integrate natural therapies in treatments since many of the side effects for drugs include suicide and death! I especially don’t like Ritalin (methylphenidate), being frequently given to kids to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant, which has a similar pharmacological profile as cocaine, that affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. Kid’s brains are still forming and the drug isn’t good for long-term use. Not saying that some kids don’t need drugs, but in some cases what is needed is more attention and discipline from parents. I have friends that are doctors and adolescent therapists tell me that many parents want a prescription pill to do the discipline they don’t want to do.
All this is very disturbing. Since mainstream psychiatry doesn’t offer alternative health care options to patients, patients don’t know about the choice of going to a **naturopathic doctor or **integrative medical doctor for treatment.
** A naturopathic doctor (ND) practices medicine that integrates natural and scientific methods to heal patients. A ND focuses on eliminating the cause of illness and having good nutrition to achieve good health. The ND degree includes educational training of medical and clinical sciences, similar to the training of a medical doctor.
** An integrative medical doctor (IMD) is a medical doctor that focuses on the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), to achieve healing and optimal health. An IMD uses a combination of traditional medicine and alternative therapies to treat patients.
Organizations That Help
These organizations encourage mentally ill people to embrace their illness and are helping to destigmatize the disease:
Read Part 2 of this story of how Stacy got healthy help: Mental Illness, Alternative Health Treatment