Mental Health Concerns
I've had psychiatric care. I have, in fact, been treated for major depression on and off since around 1988, with both talk therapy and antidepressants. I think I probably needed treatment long before that, but my parents didn't recognize the problem and neither did I. I've largely had help as an outpatient, but I did spend one week in a hospital after a serious suicide attempt in 1988, and had another stay in 1991 when I realized that I was headed into a suicidal state again.
My depression seems to largely be related to being raped when I was a child. It's entirely possible that other factors contributed to it, such as a genetic predisposition, but the history of sexual abuse seems to be the most significant contributor for me. I also have post-traumatic stress disorder and had an eating disorder at one time. All three are fairly common in abuse survivors of any kind.
I take anti-depressants and have come to accept that I'll probably always need them. I monitor my depression levels, and if I seem to be headed into the trough again I try to figure out whether there's something in my life that's triggering the depression. I improve the situation if possible, or accept it if that isn't possible. My family is great about helping me through those times, but sometimes they require a medication adjustment.
The PTSD actually gives me more trouble than the depression. I have a fairly low tolerance level for noise and crowds, which is unfortunately exacerbated by fibromyalgia. I still get flashbacks at times (it seems to be a cyclical thing). I completely avoid reading any explicit recounts of any kind of rape or sexual abuse. I still have nightmares about the abuse. I have tranzuilizers that I can take when necessary, but I'm wary of their addiction potential.
Few people realize how differently you're treated once anyone learns that you've been in a mental hospital or had any other sort of psychiatric care. I know most of you think "Oh, I'd never do that. I know mental health treatment isn't so strange." But really now, look deeper. You back off a little when you learn something like that about new acquaintances, don't you? Almost like there's a chance of contagion?
You would be absolutely stunned to learn how many people you see and interact with on a daily basis have, at some time, had some sort of psychiatric treatment, whether it was talk therapy or antidepressants or the occasional anti-anxiety drugs. In most cases you'll never know unless they do tell you, because they are perfectly normal, functioning people. You'll never have reason to know unless they tell you.
The stigma regarding mental health will remain until we bring the whole topic out of the closet. It's the people who refuse to seek help when they need it who go off the deep end and start shooting children in playgrounds! Getting help for mental health problems is no different from taking insulin if you're a diabetic, or getting your broken leg set so it'll heal properly. Do you take antidepressants? You hide that from most people, don't you? Do you wear glasses or contacts? When's the last time you hid that? Needing your vision or your body's chemistry corrected isn't a moral issue, but simply a fact of life. So is seeking help for depression or similar problems. Please get help if you need it!
There was a time when I did resist being honest about depression. I didn't want to be open enough with my therapist to even get the help I needed. I resisted so much, in fact, that I tried to kill myself. I woke up in ICU a few days later, throat sore from being intubated, feeling generally nasty from having my stomach pumped and being given charcoal. My first coherent thought was "Damn, that was stupid!" If you're thinking about hurting yourself, please take my word for it: Don't. Get help. You aren't irretrievably broken. You are simply ill, and you can get better. It is worth the work to do so.
If you've been through some sort of mental illness, talk about it. Be open about it. Treat it just as you would treat having survived cancer or a broken back or anything else. Don't let anyone shame you about it, and don't be silent. You may be able to help someone else through your openness.
graphics created by Sam
Chupp and Cynthia Armistead
This file last modified 05/16/06