People with mental illness need heros

I spent Saturday afternoon at the movie theater watching Black Panther. I came home and watched Wonder Woman. Wow! I absolutely love the superheroes. I enjoy the plot line of good conquering evil.

The truth is everybody needs a hero, but people with mental illness really need superheroes. We need to hear from the people who are living well with their illness. We need to learn from those who have conquered, those who know how to deal with their struggles.

Here are a few people who I’ve found inspiring:

Jennifer Marshall is the co-founder of This is My Brave. She wanted to find a way to help fight stigma so Jennifer created a platform where people who live with mental illness can share their stories. Jennifer lives with bipolar disorder.

Gabe Howard has so many mental health advocacy titles I don’t think I know all of them. I do know Gabe is a writer and speaker, has won many mental health advocacy awards, and was a past board member of NAMI Ohio. He often does many creative podcasts. Gabe lives with bipolar disorder.

Ellyn Saks is a professor of law at the University of Southern California. She has written a book called, “The Center Cannot Hold,” and has a great Ted Talk. I admire her strength and courage for speaking openly about her journey with schizophrenia.

Michael Phelps the most decorated athlete in Olympic history has joined the ranks of mental health advocacy. He is using his Olympic platform to raise awareness for mental illness. Michael lives with depression.

Brandon Marshall is a wide receiver in the NFL whose struggle has been borderline personality disorder. Brandon has partnered with “Bring Change to Mind” and has worked hard at promoting men’s mental health.

So these are a few of the people who I have found inspirational. It’s not that they haven’t struggled or have been cured. What they have done is shine a light so people know more about mental illness.

We can have a picture that says a person with mental illness looks lots of different ways. And we can be inspired by their willingness to share part of their journey with us.

Like many of the evil doers in the superhero stories Mental illness doesn’t play fair. Mental health advocacy is not straight forward like other illnesses with advocacy efforts (think pink). We aren’t fighting for research dollars for one illness, but many. We are fighting stigma hard, only to have our progress nearly wiped out when the loud voices with access to national media platforms make an overly generalized link between mental illness and violence.

We need lots of heroes out there to help fight the battles, because I’m afraid a few inspiring superheroes are not quite powerful enough to take on the world.

But they sure do shine a bright light for the rest of us. It’s up to us to follow the path.

“Crazy and insane” comments from an NRA spokeswoman

After watching the CNN town hall meeting held in Florida regarding the terrible school shooting tragedy, I was disheartened to hear the NRA spokeswoman use such terms as “crazy, insane, monstrous.” The acts of the shooter were incomprehensible. But those of us who live with mental illness should never be lumped into a small group of people who are violent.

The NRA spokeswoman also said “the mentally ill” should be put into a “criminal database” and be prohibited from having guns. I’m in agreement that people who have mental illness should not have guns. It’s my personal viewpoint. But criminalizing mental illness will keep people from getting the help they need.

Further, what should qualify as diagnosis that make owning a gun illegal? Does that mean a person with depression goes into the hospital with suicidal thoughts and gets flagged as a dangerous mentally ill crazy person? Or is criminalizing mental illness only reserved for the psychos like me who have bipolar disorder? Because In fact I’m the real insane monster.

Do you see how absurd this is?

I don’t want to see innocent people get hurt or killed. I think there needs to be steps taken to keep people from obtaining guns who shouldn’t have them. But the kind of words we choose to debate what should be done matter. Knee jerk reactions usually have far reaching and usually not good outcomes. Fear drives people to react and results in horrendous name calling and labeling.

My hope is wiser heads will prevail on solutions. We as a society have allowed the issues of an abundance of access to military type weapons, lack of intervention to appropriate mental health care and an overwhelming swing toward not allowing proper intervention to help someone with mental illness get stabilized.

But something very important to ponder is to ask why many other countries who have as much mental illness as the United States, but don’t have mass shootings. Or are those of us with mental illness in the United States just different than the rest of the world? That’s what the NRA is arguing. And to me their solutions to the problem are as far fetched as believing mental illness is the sole cause to all the violence in the United States, when we know only 5% of all violent acts are committed by those who have a mental illness.

I’m bothered by people who are given a national platform who do harm to millions of people by calling for the criminalization of people with mental illness. Although it’s a small effort, I’ll be giving a talk today with college students encouraging them to get the help they need if they have signs and symptoms of mental illness. But can I with clear consciousness tell them there won’t be any negative consequences to getting help? I don’t know the answer. But I do know not getting help is a bad choice.

I have bipolar and I am not violent

I had an opportunity to teach a group of school teachers about mental illness. After last weeks Florida school shooting I was prepared for questions about mental illness and violence. It’s beyond sad this is an ever occurring topic.

But what happens to those of us who live with a mental illness when the public, president and politicians point the finger quickly at mental illness as the sole explanation for the violence? It’s a complicated answer.

I’ve spent the past three years publicly talking about bipolar disorder, my psychotic episodes and the consequences of my untreated, under treated mental health condition. As confident as I am owning all of who I am, I get a little rattled and defensive when people say mental illness caused the shooting. I get upset being stigmatized into a small group, though disturbing number of people who commit horrendous crimes.

But something happened to me tonight as I taught the class and openly shared my experiences with bipolar disorder. I could talk about the fact more than 14 million people live with serious mental illness-and very few are violent. And I can also say that sometimes people with mental illness can be violent. Probably more impactful was the fact I was the “teacher” living with bipolar disorder, openly talking about it and saying, “I’m not crazy, whacko, looney, nuts, dangerous, or violent. I’m just a person with bipolar disorder who takes medication so I can live my life productively. For the most part, I’m just like everyone else.”

And as satisfying as it is to have an honest and open conversation about mental illness, most people aren’t as fortunate as me. Most people don’t have a platform where you can look people in the eye and tell them you have a mental illness and you aren’t violent. Even if they were terrified of me they were a captive audience there to of all things learn from me.

I have found there is no greater confidence builder than being open about my bipolar disorder. But I’m also realistic in knowing not everyone has the freedom in sharing that information.

Many people do believe those with mental illness are violent-end of story. That’s probably the same people who say, “It’s time to bring back mental institutions and lock me’ all up.” That was sadly an actual comment on Facebook to an article written about the Florida school shooting. I cringed when I read this…

Then, reality set in. We don’t even have enough funding for research or current mental health treatment, where are we going to find the funding to put over 14 million people in institutions that don’t exists. It’s just people scared and uniformed lashing out with what terrifies those of us with mental illness-the threat of being locked up against our will.

I digress…anyhow the point is all these comments people say about those with mental illness matter. It effects people. No one wants to be assumed as violent. Would you?

When you’re having a discussion about a mass shooting, perhaps we should consider all the facts and not try to simply blame mental illness as the only cause. There’s more to the story.

And by the way, most people with mental illness aren’t violent.