It’s the third birthday of Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church. To celebrate I am sharing 10 things I’ve learned along the way since the publication of the book on September 30, 2014.
10. Mental Illness is stubborn. It takes an average of 10 years for a person to seek professional help from the onset of symptoms and even then, only half of us who have symptoms seek professional help. Causes for this long delay in treatment (or lack of mental health treatment) range from denial to shame to fear to lack of awareness to lack of affordable healthcare to lack of mental health resources to lack of access to care. The truth is that mental illness as a brain disease can do a lot of damage before it is recognized and treated. It’s also true that we can be in recovery from mental illness and live full, abundant lives.
9. Kids suffer from mental illness. This is the hard reality that I didn’t like hearing. At a conference a presenter who is an expert in pediatric psychology shared that symptoms of mental illness can be observed as young as age zero. Let that sink in. More and more children are expericing symptoms of mental illness. The fastest rate of growth for suicide is among young girls ages 8-11. There are not enough beds in pediatric psychiatric care centers. There are months long waiting lists to see therapists that work with kids.
8. Anosognosia. I learned this word in a church basement in Columbus, Ohio. A mother and father shared their journey with their young adult son who lives with schizophrenia. He is unaware of his own mental illness–he has anosognosia–nd so he resists mental health treatment because he does not believe he has an illness, even though his symptoms are severe. Speaking from personal experience, it is terribly painful to love someone who has mental illness and their symptom prohibits them from self-awareness. My father died 10 years ago and he had anosognosia.I think that’s what killed him because he refused to get help.
7. People of Color. As a person with the multiple dimensions of privilege (white skin, cis-gender, graduate level education, and middle-class), I have built-in advantages when it comes to navigating the mental healthcare system. For POC, because of systemic white supremacy, there are serious barriers to getting preventative mental healthcare, treatment and recovery.
6. LGBTQ. We know that the highest rate of suicide is among trans teenagers, and among this group, those who are POC. Suicide is not the result of a person choosing to die. Suicide, as one survivor shared, is an attempt to “make the pain stop.” We are all responsible for creating communities that address the real pain felt and experienced by people who are LGBTQ, and as much as is in our power, to show nothing but love and respect.
5. Most Churches are Silent. There remains a great need for communities of faith to break the silence about mental illness. When the church is silent about mental illness, a reality that directly impacts one out of every four people, the church fails to live the gospel. It is a sin to be silent. The devil loves our silence because that’s how he wins. Let love win. Break the silence.
4. Blessed are the Crazy. I’ve spoken to why I chose this title many times and each time I say, yes, that’s what it’s called. It’s so true to me and my story. As a personal testimony it works for me. Now, if I were writing an essay for a professional medical journal, maybe not. However, for reaching the audience that I have had the tremendous pleasure and privilege to engage with these past three years, it’s been right.
3. Gratitude. I cannot thank you enough for joining me on this journey. For the thousands of conversations, questions, stories, tears, laughter, insights, and deep connections, I am filled with gratitude. I could not have ever imagined that breaking open my story would have brought us together in such beauty and love. Thank you, for in this holy sharing there is healing. The work continues.
2. Mental Illness is Real. Our bodies get sick and our physical organs can become diseased: the heart, the lungs, and the brain. Many types of mental illness, including the most severe are brain diseases. We would never say to a person with diabetes or heart disease to stop taking their medications. Mental illness is a physical illness and people who have it deserve respect, excellent healthcare and great compassion.
1. Hope is Real and Contagious. We can easily be overwhelmed with the suffering caused by mental illness. We know that a majority of people who live in the streets and who are incarcerated are people with untreated mental illness. The good news is that mental illness can be prevented (in many cases), treated and people can experience a life of recovery. We must not lose hope that abundant life is possible for all of us. We must not let go of hope. We must hold onto hope for one another.