Stigma, Part Two

I normally ignore negative emails and comments on the things I write and don’t bother responding to them, since it is always pointless.  I made my argument in my article or book, and so if you don’t like it, oh well.  But today I received a negative email from someone associated with the Church of Scientology regarding my posting on the stigma that too often afflicts those with mental illness. The letter politely explained to me that the diagnosis and treatment of those with mental illness is “a disgrace and a scam on an enormous scale, designed to legitimize the covert creation of a market for psychiatric medication.” 

            My youngest daughter is bipolar.  After two hospitalizations and years of adjusting her medications, she is finally stable.  If not for her treatment and medication, she would have been incarcerated at the very least, and might, quite possibly, be dead.  Thanks to her medications, she no longer has the fits of rage that resulted in her kicking holes in my walls, breaking windows or giving me black eyes.  She now can do her school work, is cheerful, loving and agreeable.  She is as close to normal as she has been in the last five years.

            For me, the stigma associated with mental illness is personal.  If you’re suffering from mental illness of any kind, if you are suffering from depression, or if someone you care about is suffering from a mental illness, I encourage you to seek medical attention.  There is no disgrace in it.  If you had a broken leg, you would not be ashamed to go to the hospital.  If you had a heart attack, you would not believe you were a weak or bad person.  If you were in a wheelchair, you would not take kindly to someone suggesting you’re lazy or that it’s all a scam on the part of wheelchair manufacturers.

            If you have a loved one who is mentally ill that you are caring for, I would also encourage you to get involved with NAMI. NAMI is an organization that my wife and I found out about thanks to my youngest daughter’s therapist.  NAMI is the acronym for The National Alliance on Mental Illness.  It was founded by Harriet Shetler and Beverly Young in 1979.  Their sons had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and over the years they had become tired of their children being blamed for their mental illness, as if being sick was somehow a lifestyle choice.

NAMI’s mission today is a continuation of that initial desire.  It exists to “improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness” through support, education, awareness, advocacy and research.  The national NAMI organization is based out of Arlington, Virginia. It is organized further into state and local affiliates, all operating mainly with the work of thousands of volunteers. 

One of the biggest comforts in the organization is to discover that you are not alone in your struggles, the feelings you have, and the difficulties you face. 

            Sadly, many of the people who we have gotten to know through our local NAMI chapter have children or loved ones who have been repeatedly incarcerated as a result of their mental illness: a large percentage of the prison population—mostly those who are there due to substance abuse and the related problems that come from it—are mentally ill.  Due to the way the law is currently set up, once a mentally ill person turns 18, parents lose all ability to help them unless they cooperate (thankfully our daughter, thus far, cooperates with us).  You cannot get information on their treatment or diagnosis; you cannot force them to take their medication, you cannot force them to get any sort of treatment at all, in fact.  Most of the homeless population is in fact made up of untreated mentally ill people that cannot be helped unless they choose to be helped—and most mentally ill people don’t recognize that they need aid and refuse to accept it.  A good movie illustrating this problem is The Soloist, based on the book by Steve Lopez, about a Julliard-trained musician, homeless and on the streets for decades, and Lopez’s attempts to help him.  The movie stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

            So if you have a loved one who is mentally ill, you might want to check out NAMI; they have many resources that could help you.  Their website is or write them at National Alliance on Mental Illness, 3803 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, Va 22203 or call 703-524-7600.