Truth be told, I spend a lot more time on social media than I should. I can think of quite a few things, just off the top of my head, that I could be doing rather than clicking the little Facebook icon at the top of my computer screen to see people posting pictures of their food, pictures with their girlfriends/fiancés/wives/kids, random reposts and other such internet detritus. Facebook happens to also be my source for news stories as I subscribe to a lot of different news outlets on there as well. Among the wreckage there is some information that is of interest, but not much.
But I, like many, am unable to pull myself away.
In case you haven’t noticed, Facebook has implemented this neat feature to the right hand side of the newsfeed that tells you what topics are currently trending as hot discussion topics all over the their giant social network. One that has caught my eye over and over again is the recent “coming out” announcement by Ellen Page.
You might know her from the news stories that have been popping up all over your newsfeed recently. You might also recognize her from great movies such as Inception, Whip It and Hard Candy or from some not-so-great films like Juno. The quote that keeps resurfacing over and over again is the statement she made at the Time to Thrive LGBT youth conference in Las Vegas where she made the announcement. Of course, she did not just announce the fact that she was gay but that she was, “tired of hiding”.
I’m going to stop right here and say that I am, in no way, a taking a shot at Ellen Page or the LGBT community. I do think it’s interesting she felt like she was hiding. This country is at a point in history where being gay arguably more accepted than it ever has been. Sure, there are still people who refuse to move with progress and a lot of people in the church who like to play God and judge those they feel are sinners rather than trying to show them Christ (something you can’t do when you’re condemning them to hell before they have a chance, FYI). And there are just so many hip and wonderful people out there these days championing the cause for civil rights for gay people. Ellen Page is “tired of hiding”?
Admittedly, it still may be difficult for some to “come out” these days and there are a lot of people who are still hiding. From what I’ve seen, there is a lot more support for them these days than condemnation. There’s something about this whole thing that gets on my nerves and it is the fact that there are those of us who are tired of hiding as well but for an entirely different reason.
I see people like Ellen Page and their advocacy for themselves and those like them and I can’t help but wish there were more people like that standing up and advocating for people who are probably in more imminent danger and, in my opinion, are far more misunderstood.
I wish society would get behind people who advocate for Mental Health the way they are rallying behind Ms. Page.
Understand that, just as sexual orientation is considered a protected class by the United States Government, so is Mental Health under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The truth is, you will find a lot of advocacy groups that address the needs and issues caused by Mental Health issues but they mainly support those suffering from depression and suicidal ideation. Groups like To Write Love on Her Arms do a good job of focusing on hope and healing but with a demographic of people in their teens and maybe early 20’s, it’s difficult for me to take them seriously on a national level and they certainly don’t blow up my Facebook Newsfeed.
Let’s put this into perspective. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) there was an estimated 9.6 million adults ages 18 and above in the US suffering from a serious mental illness which was qualified in their study as the following:
• A mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders);
• Diagnosable currently or within the past year;
• Of sufficient duration to meet diagnostic criteria specified within the 4th edition of theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV);
• Resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
Another study shows that only 6.7% of the US adult population was diagnosed over a 12 month period with major depressive disorder and only 2% of these people were classified as severe. This is a little less than the 2.6% of the US population that are diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and 1.1% of the US population is diagnosed with Schizophrenia. So, we’re talking small numbers here. But doesn’t that make those of us with Mental Health issues according to the the United States Government, a minority?
Yes, in case you caught it, I did say, “us”. If you’ve read my writing before you know that I am not very protective of my diagnosis of Bipolar II disorder. I was diagnosed eight years ago and have been medicated for it ever since. I have been through hard times and hell and the way my brain is wired doesn’t make it any easier to cope. At the same time, I have friends who live with their own form of Mental Health issues on a daily basis as well; some have it less difficult than others.
Why do I tell you all this? Because I wish there was someone in the public spotlight who would step up and advocate for those of us who are medicated, depressed, suicidal, anxious, delusional, inattentive and paranoid. All I ever seem to see are people who end up martyrs for the cause because there is such stigma still surrounding Mental Health. The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good example. Addiction is a disease and is either caused by or brings on depression. Unfortunately, such an illness makes it very difficult to go into the public forum and champion a cause for others.
The way I look at it, you take care of your body by going to the doctor and staying healthy. You take vitamins and you take medications to correct issues with blood pressure, cholesterol and even pain. But you have all these health-related TV shows and programs that are designed to help you maintain that portion of your health. Some of that does benefit people like me or my friends but it’s not a cure-all. A lot of us are medicated and some of us are in therapy. If you’re like me, you do both. I do it because I want to be able to function as best as I can in society and do the things I want to do without some aberrant chemical reaction in my brain telling me it’s not worth getting out of bed today.
So, we come back to Ellen Page. I will admit she was brave to come out, though it was in front of a bunch of like-minded people. The fact that it was released to the American public is another thing altogether. I want someone to do that with mental health. Believe me, if you’ve not experienced being Bipolar II then you have no idea where I’m coming from. Therein lies the danger. If you haven’t experienced it, relating to it becomes difficult, almost impossible to comprehend what I go through every day. But I feel I wouldn’t have to hide it from work or from new people or even a potential female interest if there was someone willing to step up and waive the flag for those of us in the small percentage of the American population who have to live this way.
Maybe that person will be me. Someday.