It’s time to bring Mental Illness out of the shadows

The words in the title of this piece were words said by President Obama, after the 2012 mass-shooting in Newtown, Conneticut. In this case, the perpetrator apparently had some history with the Mental Health services where he lived. It remains a sad story that there didn’t seem to tally as many Mental Illness red flags to follow up with the shooter about his current mental health issues.

What can all of us do to change the perceptions that people on the street generally have about the dynamics of Mental Illness? The problem is one that exists from coast-to-coast, and has the boosted potentiality of increasing even more, as one of the major socio-psychological problems in our country.
Those of us who have gotten a diagnosis from a therapist or a psychiatrist (I’ve been diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar II, & PTSD) have, in many cases, have experienced the stigma of Mental Illness. The amount a social stigmatization around Mental Health is very powerful, but also points to how much ignorance about Mental Illness that still exists in our nation.

What can we do in the short-term & the long-term to assist in the educating of people much more intensely, with more knowledge, with more practical skills, and transferring all of knowledge & information gained, along with observations from a Family System’s perspective skills? people can get more information about the family’s interpersonal relationships. This analysis can be very fruitful, as observors can scan the communication networks within a family.

This first blog will cover the Short-Term Goals, and another blog the following week will explore the Long-Term goals.

Short-Term Goals:
* Make yourself aware of the kind of Mental Illness with which your loved one, or friend, had been diagnosed.
* Study information related to the diagnosis and know its dynamics, and try to grasp how it works.
* Don’t make a big deal to the party with whom you are “silent partnering,” about the groups you are attending that have a connection with a better understanding of Mental Illness. Of course this is based on each person & a family, and they are all differentiated, so talk with others about options & alternatives. As people propel themselves farther along in recovery, this is when I would really emphasize that demonstrating empathy to our loved ones or friends can be profound; it can also be used in concert with sharing our own recovery story.
* Don’t preach to the person who seems to you to have a Mental Health problem.
* Express yourself mainly through your actions, compassion & interest for the person with a Mental Illness.
* Your choice: some people have gotten much helpful advice from others, especially by listening to their stories. If you like being in groups, and appreciate more support, try going to an Alanon meeting; the reason I suggest this is that people who attend these types of meetings, hopefully learn to let go, to not enable others towards fulfilling perhaps self-defeating behavior; in most of our lives we can only control what happens a little bit, and the majority of situations, events, disagreements with people, etc. are totally beyond one’s control.
Some folks have tried Twelve Step groups, and simply found it wasn’t for them. We can never forget there can be one kind of journey (Recovery) with multiple paths in which to move forwards, backwards, sideways, circular, something not yet discovered, etc.
* If you have the opportunity to talk with members of your extended family, see if you can engage them around issues that might have occurred in the past, at places 1, 2, 3, etc. and that relate to any strange behaviors by family members, illnesses, accidents, people being committed to Mental Institutions against their will, suicides, drug-alcohol-related-behavior that led to self-destructive actions against yourself, or some patterned anti-social acts in the community.

* I know that in just reading some of the above questions or areas you may feel “more “fucked up” but that is probably comes with the enormous amount of material we hand to you. Be patient with yourself, and perhaps try digesting & processing an incremental amount, may work for some and on some have no effect.

* If talking to family members seems out of the question, you may have to seek more family information in other places. If within the family, there a number of family wounds, there may be a lot of scar tissue, it hardens & toughens, and you have to saw through it. Each person decides if they want to expose the wound—for some, the pain and its depth is farther than they want to go, so they want out. Never in any way try to coerce a person to do something against their will; seek some professional help to find out how best to help.

* If we ask “How do you catch Mental Illness anyway?” Another level in this relates to the longstanding debate about nature & nurture. One way to look at it is that Mental Illness catches us—as research studies are finding out that there may be genetic stimuli that causes certain people to have a predisposition to having a certain illness or addiction. It may be the gene that’s pushing our buttons.

When we add in social conditioning, that defines a certain social learning, with the possibility of genetic components as being causal factors for triggering certain consequences & outcomes. Some of the stigma, as well as social-psychological stimuli, that come our way in our world & culture.

* Check out the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website; the Austin website is: so if you click on “Education” a drop-down shows you the various courses (some are free); I’d recommend taking the “Family-to-Family” course which is free and gives helpful information to family members who may be able to learn how to more effectively relate to their friend or loved one who has Mental Illness. This is only a suggestion—go with the kind of education that will be applicable to you as an individual or family, or support network.

Growing up outside of Chicago, Illinois, I could definitely be labeled a white boy with privilege; I, nor a lot of other people,e knew much of anything; we might have had what we called a “crazy” in the family, or seen someone in our community act in strange & bizaare ways, or saw portrayals of the “looneys” in movies and TV.

But then there was mom. Mom had been reared in Louisville, Kentucky as a type of southern magnolia. After the war, mom & dad moved to Chicago, where dad worked as a journalist. I’ve often wondered whether her transfer from the south to the north was a huge cultural shock, that had far deeper consequences that any of us at the time would suspect.

As a boy, I observed what has been called in the past Manic-Depression in mom’s behaviors, but overall I would say it was a greater percentage of Mania going on. She would also make these usually very public scenes or dramas. Since seeing my own mom’s behavior, there was a high level of grandiosity & narcissism. With what I know about myself and Bipolar, it aligns pretty well with what mom’s behavior was like.

During the time of my growing up years, Psychiatry had not come up with a name of this disorder. A human being becomes the rider of a huge pendulum and may either be thrown off at one end (the manic, hyper one) then swinging to the other side and thrown into a dark, brooding depression. The pendulum swings episodically.

These dramas usually were fueled by mom’s distorted view of reality in my opinion. As I think back, there was an edge of self-hate & superiority (sort of a strange concoction) about her attacks on others

When mom would start a scenic drama, she was right, & the other person was wrong—no questions asked, hands down, mom had to come out right.
She would often escalate the tension happening in the room, by putting someone else in a “put-down” by saying something like, “Why are you staring at me?” She might ask again, increasing the heat, upping the ante.

This is for the most part ego-centered, with a distorted storyline, whereby the accusing person is talking more about herself than the person she’s attacking.

As a boy, if we were eating in a restaurant or someplace that had chairs, and mom was into one of her tirades, all I wanted to do is to sink below the table out of sight.

©Christopher Bear-Beam January 18, 2016

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