I’d like to take a serious moment to talk about mental illness treatment. The US has a grave problem with how we deal with mental illness, and unless we talk more about it, we will never improve on it. We tend to treat physical ailments as worse than psychoses and neuroses when in reality, these are just as crippling and devastating as chronic pain, cancer, and other visible forms of sickness.
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I myself have suffered for a long time with bipolar, being first diagnosed incorrectly at age eighteen with depression and finally receiving a diagnosis of bipolar type one (the manic strain, type two is the more depressive variety) when I was around twenty-eight.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that varies from major depression in that you have trouble regulating your moods – you get crazy highs in which you feel like you could stop a train or fly, followed by crashing lows where you feel totally hopeless.
Sometimes you get so manic you have periods of psychosis, where you lose touch with reality. It’s pretty scary, but you learn to deal with it – typically with therapy and a regimen of medications such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and often antipsychotics.
I myself take Lamictal, an anti-seizure medication with the dual function of being a mood stabilizer as well as a small dose of the antidepressant Lexapro for my anxiety. I’m adjusting to the latter, but the former has been bliss, in a way. I find my moods don’t fluctuate as much.
When it gets especially bad or you find it hard to deal with, it’s a good idea to consider checking yourself into the hospital. As with a physical ailment, sometimes you can’t just take a pill and wash it all away. We need to remove the stigma of checking into wards. Someone doing so should be treated just the same as, say, a person admitting themselves for a broken leg.
My major issue with mental hospitals is that folks there aren’t necessarily told how long they’ll be staying. This is one aspect of hospitals themselves that needs to change. I get that an admitting nurse won’t know how bad an individual’s condition is and that it could show no sign of improvement or that it could be worse than anyone expected.
But there should be better standards for informing folks. People in mental hospitals deserve to know roughly how soon they’re getting out, no matter how severe their condition. They should not have to topple a chair during group to be told like I had to do when I was in.
At the very least, don’t tell people three days with a smile on your face if you don’t know. Perhaps I got ahead of myself, but in my case, I expected not much more than three days – which is true, as I was out in a week. Which was wonderful, as I was in college and also had a job at the time.
How are people supposed to hold down a job or finish college if they don’t know a timeframe to tell their teachers or employers? That would have depressed me more if I flunked out or lost my job (which, sadly, is often the case).
In addition, all conditions should be treated equally. People with schizophrenia should not be given any more attention than someone with extreme depression/mania as I have. I shouldn’t have had to sing what I was doing and seeing in a deliberately wildly offkey tone while flailing my arms in order to have “professionals” show a modicum of concern.
Smoking should be allowed at all mental hospitals. If people are supposed to feel better, how are you supposed to achieve this if you’re freaking about not having a cigarette? I know this seems like such a mild thing for nonsmokers, but when you’re I’ll, sometimes a cigarette is the one thing you have to hold onto in this crazy world. Depriving the hospitalized of this is almost a crime, or at the very least, discrimination.
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My point is there is no hierarchy of suffering, and this is also not to trash mental hospitals. They are good places and I’m glad I went. They just need improvements.
Lastly, more education must be done about mental illness, its various examples, and how to handle them (should you be diagnosed with one). Despite mental conditions being more easily-diagnosed (some would say over-diagnosed) and accepted, there are still a lot of misconceptions and stigma. Stereotypes abound. We need to confront this. We need to change perception.
We need to do better.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.