My father was dead at 51, a casualty of the manic depression he had fought for years. The New York Times, citing its suicide policy, declined to print his obituary. He lived in a time when mental illness was an embarrassment for families and a weakness for men. For Dad it was a crushing blow. He had left Harvard early to join the marines, and flew dive-bombers in the Pacific. He came home from the war to a different world, a wife, two small children, no money and bipolar disorder. He prided himself on his toughness and never discussed his demons.
Mean people suck. In my first draft of this blog, that bumper sticker sentiment was all I could type. It’s a natural response to an emotional situation, but I know better. Responding in anger only fuels more intolerance. I have enough to deal with just managing my mental illness. Advocacy is not a license to bully. Leave that to the narrow-minded. Then help them change their mind through peaceful interaction.
I am actually enjoying my life now. This change took a long time, many many years from when I was initially suicidal. I had to learn how to rest, when to sleep; I had to learn when to take my medication so my days would be full of activity, not sleepiness. I had to learn to really talk to my doctor so he could help me. I had to learn to not be embarrassed by my limitations.
All six Canadian NHL teams – Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks – during this month will be hosting a mental health awareness day and game. “Hockey Talks” encourages the conversation about mental health.
When mental illness is a part of the picture it takes more effort than some people are willing to give, but I’ve seen it work. I know couples where one partner or the other manages a difficult diagnosis and they both live through the facets of that illness together with strength and grace. They might even throw in a bubble bath or two.
As a society, we need to accept this reality and begin putting the money toward mandatory training programs strictly taught by qualified mental health professionals. With mandatory programs, we could potentially see a decrease in deaths and an increase in communication between people. Communication is crucial and with it, we can begin breaking down the barrier of stigma associated with mental illness.