In order for mental illness to be discussed in a positive light, there often is a powerful occurrence that starts the conversation.
In 1994, alternative rock icon Kurt Cobain joined the so-called 27 Club – an unfortunate group of singers and musicians such as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, to name a few, who all died at 27 years of age. Cobain’s death left many asking why – did depression drive him to suicide? Why would someone check out at the height of professional success?
Sinead O’Connor, Elton John, Herschel Walker, Howard Hughes, Mel Gibson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Emma Thompson, and Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps are a few of the names we often do not associate with mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate, regardless of one’s stardom, financial wealth, color, age, or gender. People all over the globe live with daily signs and symptoms of mental illness.
More recent than Cobain, a fantastic and well-loved comedian, Robin William took his life by suicide. Media sources searched for answers in an attempt to explain why Robin Williams took his own life, coming up with ideas such as the threat of bankruptcy, the future of his career, his lifelong battle with addiction or a recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s. In my social circle I heard, “He had everything, why would he does this?” and “He had so much money, what could be so wrong in his life?”
Although it was known that Robin Williams lived with depression, many people believe that depression is not a serious issue, one that can lead to a person dying by suicide from the untreated symptoms of depression or other diagnoses. Evidently, mental illness untreated or unspoken about certainly has the power to take a person’s life.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, at any given time 20% of the population will meet the criteria for a mental health problem, 25% will develop a mental health problem, and 1 in 3 people will develop a mental health problem each year. Of the 4,000 Canadians who die every year as a result of suicide, most were confronting a mental health problem or illness.
Although his death was very unfortunate, the idea of a celebrity living with mental illness opened the doors for the media, and raised questions about whether or not mental illness is stigmatized and seen as an issue that is almost taboo.
Many people are afraid of the unknown, and I believe that this is one of the many problems when it comes to mental health and mental illness.
In my opinion, and from personal experience, people are often afraid that they will be judged, seen as less than, or incompetent if they disclose their diagnosis of mental health. Yet, people can live with, function, and even win Nobel Peace prizes, even though they might have issues with their brains, just as John Nash did, despite his diagnosis of schizophrenia.
According to the World Health Organization, misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health are widespread. Despite the existence of effective treatments for mental disorders, there is a belief that they are untreatable or that people with mental disorders are difficult, unintelligent, or incapable of making decisions. This stigma can lead to abuse, rejection and isolation and exclude people from health care or support. In addition, the media often depicts those who live with mental health as violent, shaping the public’s overall perception.
Rich or not, famous or unknown, mental health is not always talked about. We chat amongst our friends about our bad knees, our sore backs, out cancer treatments, our diabetes. Yet, when is the last time you spoke to a friend or a co-worker or family member about mental illness?
I am not famous, but I have worn many masks, hiding my true self. Today, I am talking about mental illness with my friends and my family. However this has come with a price. It has cost me many sleepless nights, many tears and yes, some people that I love deeply. However, I aim to live in the present, I continue to walk, “just walk” forward each day.
In the meantime, I plan to continue writing about stigma, living with PTSD, and living in recovery from alcoholism. I hope to help others view and perceive mental illness in a different light. A light from out behind the scenes of being a mystery to one of being an inspirational journey of hope.
About Charlotte Edwards
I am a mother, a friend, and a co-worker. I work as a social worker and each day I live with the effects of PTSD and the struggles of being in recovery from alcoholism.