“Get over it.”
“It’s not that bad.”
Phrases such as these are used to shrug off the seriousness of a mental illness. People with mental disorders and their loved ones often deny that they are suffering from addiction, bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, and any other number of medical ailments. It’s important to remember that these real diseases are caused by actual chemical imbalances in the body. Even in the recent past, individuals with mental disorders were ‘treated’ in facilities only slightly better than jails. Kyle Lloyd landed in a military psychiatric facility after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He writes:
The setting here was an open-bay ward with approximately 24 psychiatric patients in cohabitation. The best way to visualize it would take a viewing of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. On a couple occasions, the medication raised my temper to physical outbursts and I spent time in seclusion strapped to a bed tightly held in a strait-jacket.
Too many people have had similar experiences. Many of these people, and people who only know this kind of treatment for mental illness, choose not to address their mental illness directly. Their support systems (family and friends) can enable this attitude.
When I was finally able to walk out of that hospital, the maintenance dose of Haloperidol and its refill prescriptions went into a trash can at the end of their sidewalk. Denial worked against me for several years to follow after leaving US Navy’s Submarine Service and becoming a civilian worker.
My family gathered about me after departing the Navy and insisted that I had no mental illness, that if I just “bucked-up some” and “got on with my life” I’d be just fine. Well, this I tried, but there were gradual and ever-present subtle symptoms that would not abate with passages of time, but some easily hid behind more or less self-medicating use of alcohol, a tobacco habit, and occasional marijuana use.
Self-medication is not uncommon among people with mental disorders. Using drugs and alcohol to regulate may seem to solve the problem, but they actually further disrupt an already imbalanced system. People who self-medicate often develop an addiction (also a mental illness) alongside their existing mental disorder. The medical world calls this Dual Diagnosis.
One mental disorder can make life extremely difficult. Living with two, especially when you deny their existence, makes every aspect of life becomes unstable- emotions, relationships, finances, mental clarity, etc. Like millions of other people with mental illness, Kyle ended up alone. This rock bottom is where he began to admit the truth.
After eventually even succumbing to homelessness, the NAMI Peer-to-Peer Course assisted me with sound and reasonable instruction and basic scientific knowledge which became effective for me to develop a personal recovery plan and take steps forward that were altogether a very long time in coming. Succinctly worded, my epiphany.
Kyle overcame his denial. Ignoring the real symptoms of schizophrenia and later addiction did not heal him. Seeking knowledge and personal treatment healed him. Kyle is now an advocate for evidence-based treatment for mental wellness, particularly for veterans. He helps others overcome their denial, and works to overcome the stigma unjustly attached to mental illnesses.
If you or your loved one has a mental illness, seek help from counselors or communities that treat mental illnesses as the medical disorders that they are. You don’t have to live in the chaos.
Thank you to Recovery Voices and Kyle Lloyd for sharing his story. You can read Kyle’s complete story, and others like it here (external link).