Sunday, July 29, 2018

Unhealthy Mental Health

A silver-painted woman with mental health issues

The Past

Over the past few years, I watched a friend's mental health deteriorate to the point he could no longer live with his wife and kids. He ended up living on the streets, trying to get by. This is the second time, in a decade where this has happened to him. Both times, his paranoid schizophrenia improved, significantly, after he was arrested and institutionalized at a mental health facility for months of treatment.

After his most recent recovery, I bumped into him in Cupertino where we spoke for about ten minutes. He's never acknowledged any hint of his mental health issues – in other words, denial.


The Present

One key symptom that seems to make mental health worse, for the individual, is denial – a failure to even acknowledge there's an issue. A person's private life should remain as private as the individual wants it to be. However, relationships imply responsibilities. If a person is unable to maintain a friendship, then the friendship will fade away.

The part that frustrates me is I have to guess why people, with unacknowledged mental health issues, act the way that they do. From my point of view, it begins when they can't speak on the phone, even though they used to. Although texting helps, it can be hours or days until even a simple text message is answered.

I count myself as very fortunate that I don't "stress out." Knock on wood, but I have yet to experience depression, anxiety, a panic attack, etc. Many years ago, I would have attributed this to my Marine Corps experiences where I had to learn to handle many different situations that my civilian peer age group did not. Today, I realize that I'm simply very lucky.

How could Robin Williams succumb to depression? Replace the word 'depression' with 'cancer' and no one would even ask. But, mental health issues have so much stigma that individuals don't want to acknowledge it, let alone discuss it with others.

When I was faced with a life threating illness, I told as many of my friends and relatives that I could. My thinking was, "If I was a friend or relative, I would want to know that Joe's sick."


The Future

I currently have several very close relatives and friends, that I've know my entire adult life, who have some type of debilitating mental health issue which is completely unacknowledged. In two cases, it's worsened by alcoholism, which is another disease that is too frequently ignored. I now recognize the pattern. They lose touch, usually completely, and can't communicate. It seems to begin with a social anxiety. Very frequently, plans – even plans they've initiated – get abruptly cancelled with no explanation.

Now, I try to figure out what to do to help and my conclusion is that I can do very little, especially when they refuse to engage in any type of even light social conversation. For those I know who have admitted their mental health issues to me, it's much easier for me to lend a sympathetic ear. For the others, it's easy for me to mistakenly think that their condition is their fault and it's hard for me to sit back and watch the downward spiral.

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