Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Coming Out of the Mental Health Closet

In the spring of 2007, I found myself checked into Research Pyschiatric Hospital. The same hospital that I had received my initial diagnosis of bipolar some 11 years before. There were a number of interesting encounters that week, but one of them was with a young mother who had been suicidal after the birth of her child. The mother happened to be a member of the LDS Church and I noticed that I was the only person in the entire wing who had any clergy visiting them. When talking with this LDS woman, I asked her why she had not asked for the bishop or one of the other elders to come visit her and she responded, "Some things are best handled within the family."

There was a lot of wisdom in this woman's response. For many, hiding mental illness is the best option for ones career and interactions with friends and family. Yet I have also come to believe that the shame and stigma of mental illness then also contributes to further depressions and new cycles of shame and stigma.  Mental illness is a huge killer in our nation. Twice as many people in Missouri die of suicidie than die of homicides. Yet why isn't there an outrage and a demand for better access to mental health services? Because too often those that suffer, suffer and then die alone.

Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite bloggers. When I realized that this gay man who happens to be HIV+ can be honest about his status, perhaps so can I.  It is perhaps one of the reasons why I have found myself spending Sunday evenings at Stonewall Ministry. A ministry of the Community of Christ that is open and inclusive for gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals and their advocates. One of my lesbian friends said that I would find that hanging out with a bunch of "queers" would toughen me up a bit. Perhaps she was right.

I hope so, because as a part of me coming out of the mental health closet, I have received many positive comments and appreciations. (Especially from those who struggle with mental illness as well.) But I also have encountered some anonymous haters. 

Here in Missouri we have had one of the first cyber-bullying cases in the nation, when Megan Meier completed suicide after a classmate's mother sent her threatening messages.  Well, I'm not a 16-year-old, and I can handle the haters, especially because it feels like it takes little or no courage to attack a person with an anonymous comment.  I'm glad to be out of the mental health closet.


Dan said...

Interesting post, Todd. For a significant portion of our population, the image of a room full of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people plus a man struggling with mental health issues would be enough to trigger a need for sedatives! ;-)

Hang in there, and thanks for sharing your journey.

Todd said...

We know that the biggest factor in changing one's attitude about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender is actually knowing one. I'm sure the same is true about mental illness.

As far as the room being filled. We are so not there. There was like 14 people there last Sunday. That experience isn't unusual in the Community of Christ/RLDS tradition and it actually makes me think of the congregation in Michigan I grew up in.

Amy LH said...

Hmmm. Let's see what we have here: One group of marginalized folks welcoming a member of another marginalized minority group, to affirm full humanity within a powerful, dominating culture that seeks to confer full humanity upon only those in the powerful majority? This sounds like the early church to me.
Thanks, Todd.

A Librarian said...

Just wanted to let you know there are a lot of us out in the world who support your efforts to change perceptions of mental health issues. Keep up the good work.

Todd said...

Amy & A Librarian, thanks for your kind notes. Intellectually I knew I was never alone in this, but there were days when it sure felt like that. Those days seem far in the past, but one also must be vigilant.

A Librarian, it would be good to have a good reading list on the subject. Kay Jamison is one of my heroes and I devour about everything she has written. I'd welcome any suggestions you have.

Linda G said...

I am proud of you Todd.