Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mental Health Will Drive You Mad

The latest news concerning Lindsay Lohan—that her father is using voice mails she left for him as proof that he needs to forcibly commit her—is evidence of many things, not the least of which is that for the mass audience that consumes this sort of drivel, mental health issues are nothing more than entertainment fodder, something to be vaguely amused by as they peruse their daily doses of Twitter, Facebook and whatever other passing fancies that are nothing more than a momentary distraction in their humdrum lives.

Well in my family and thousands of others like it, mental health is no joke. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks, breakdowns, drug abuse—these are daily facts of life for us. It deeply disturbs me that in this age in which we are supposedly enlightened about so many things, mental health is not treated as a serious public health issue but as some sort of joke, a self-indulgent behavior pattern that will “go away” if those who are afflicted by it would just make an effort to “get over it.” While we have made some progress with public perception—we no longer sweep such things under the proverbial rug—I find it deeply troubling that the mass media (and the great unwashed masses who consume it) continue to treat mental health concerns of public figures with such casual cynicism.

Someone near and dear to me is going through a terrible time right now and it has been a horrible strain on everyone in the family, not the least of which are her two young boys who don’t really understand what’s going on except that their mommy who adores them is a shadow of her former self, sad and lethargic and hopeless. She is in serious trouble, in danger of doing great damage not just to herself but to those who care about her. Like poor troubled Lindsay, she struggles each day with a myriad of issues that sometimes get the best of her. She is fortunate that, unlike Lohan, she has a support system in place that continues to look out for her, but like Lindsay, she still feels sometimes as if there is no one who really understands what she’s going through, no one she can completely trust.

Having suffered from crippling depression myself, I understand the frustration of trying to convey what it is I’m experiencing to someone who has never had mental health issues. When I describe the medication and treatment program that I have undergone, for example, the response is often skepticism instead of empathy. They don’t understand why the drugs are necessary, a fundamental aspect of the course of treatment, instead seeing them as a sign of weakness, as some sort of crutch we choose to lean on instead of just dealing with the disease. To those who haven’t experienced it, depression is not a disease at all, is no more than a bad mood that will soon pass. How many times have you heard someone who is perfectly ok say something like “I’m so depressed” and then go on to cheerily describe the latest travails with their current job, boyfriend, etc.? That, my friends, is not depression at all, and it’s about time we started delineating the difference.

It’s time for people to wake up and realize that depression is real, bipolar disorder, anxiety, breakdowns—these things are not some trumped up behavior indulged in by rock stars and actors to get their names in the headlines. Counseling, drug therapy, hospitalization—these are not extreme measures or a sign of laziness, but fundamental aspects of a treatment regiment designed to help the mental health patient get better. Lindsay Lohan is in a lot of trouble right now, and instead of mocking her, we should be hoping and praying that there is someone out there who can help her before it’s too late. Because, you see, I’ve seen that look that she has on her face, and I am all too familiar with what might come next.


  1. Well said and a very true and honest portrayal of a serious issue that is treated far too poorly in this country.