Bringing mental health out of the shadows

I have been fairly open about my brother’s mental health issues and the impact that has had on his life and our family.

This has not been easy.

It has meant uncomfortable silences in conversations. It has meant pitying looks. It has meant losing some friendships.

It has also meant having people open up about their own experiences.

Being open about our experiences has opened a virtual floodgate of sharing. Many of those who have shared with me personally still do not feel comfortable sharing publicly – but taking the first step and sharing with just one individual is a start.

The stigma and shame we place on those who face mental illness is shameful of us as a society.

Often instead of rallying to support as we would if they told us their son/daughter had a rare disease – we pity, blame and put distance between us and them. We do not show the same compassion and understanding.

Sometimes this is out of fear – and a part of me can understand that. Mental illness can be terrifying. And we often feel helpless in the face of it. That fear and helplessness combine to a sad effect. We pull away from those who are truly most in need of us.

Perhaps some of it comes from the fact that there is no “cure” for mental illness. It is a life sentence. There are amazing new treatments and new ways to manage and cope – but the fact remains that there is not a cure. In the case of a something like schizophrenia there is the sad reality that not only will it not ever get better – it will get worse. There is no way to change that.

Knowing someone you love and care about faces that battle for the rest of their life is gut wrenching.

I can say with absolute certainty that being able to share and talk about what my brother has/is and will go through has been a life saver for me.

I am truly lucky to have friends, an employer and larger community that have accepted my sharing.

It also saddens me that I still see valid reasons for some to keep hiding this truth from the world. Many people and employers and groups still look down on mental health issues. They treat them as the person’s fault – something they had a choice in. Because so many people would wake up one day and say “I’d really like to be bi-polar/schizophrenic/delusional, I think that would just make my life so much better.” It is often seen as the family’s fault – well they must have done something to make them this way. There is a valid fear that one could lose their job or community positions if they admit to a mental health issue. Many insurances still do not offer mental health coverage.

That makes me very sad. Because this fear and shame cause many to suffer in silence and it keeps them from getting the help they need.

It keeps families from getting the support they need and deserve.

It costs lives.

It is past time for this country to have a serious and enlightened conversation about mental health. To begin to break down the stereotypes and fears and misinformation. To replace it with facts and a support system. It is beyond time to bring this topic into the light and allow those dealing with it to share their burden.

It is time.


This is a link to something I wrote in 2007 about my brother’s battle with schizophrenia.

Since then a lot has changed. His schizophrenia has progressed. He now lives in a facility specifically geared towards those with mental health issues who are not elderly.

It has been a hard transition but ultimately what is best for him and for those who love him.