Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

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Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

There has been an enormous amount of press and publicity about the Ebola virus and the lives this terrible communicable disease has recently claimed. The current statistic reports that presently the Ebola death toll nears 1,000 people worldwide. Thank goodness, steps are being taken to overcome this horrible killer. Lots of discussion, awareness, worry, work, research and medical methodologies are being implemented to find help. Lots of attention, lots of compassion…

What about Mental Illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports the following statistics (brace yourself):

  • One in four adults (61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in a given year.
  • 14.8 million Americans live with major depression
  • 42 million Americans have anxiety disorders
  • Approximately 60% of those suffering with mental illness do not receive any treatment
  • Individuals with mental illness have an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions
  • Adults with mental illness die on the average, 25 years earlier than other Americans largely do to treatable medical conditions
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and the 3rd leading cause for ages 15-24

These statistics are based on reported and diagnosed cases. The real numbers are probably much higher. Experts report that mental illness is on the rise.

Research has already suggested that there in an inheritable component to mental illness. But, is mental illness also a “communicable” disease? Are some people carriers of mental illness? Is it being spread around? After 35 years of psychotherapy practice, my opinion on these questions is “probably yes”. If you have mentally ill parents or siblings, live with a mentally ill partner or work/play with mentally ill people, your chances of contracting some form of it probably go up. If you find yourself repetitively in a stress-filled environment, your chances of breathing it in and contracting it probably go up. Everyone is at risk for mental illness. No one is immune to mental illness. No one.

As with any serious disease, the potential outcome for having mental illness is death. Are you concerned about Ebola? Get way more concerned about mental illness. The chances of you or someone you know “catching” it are far greater. What are you willing to do about this epidemic? Can we even begin to talk about it?

RIP Robin Williams

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Suicide and the Client Who Never Was

This week was especially filled with work-related trauma. A potential client left two messages on my voice mail, politely requesting an appointment. I returned both of his calls, but he did not answer his phone and so I left messages.  In his voice mail to me, he did not say he was in crisis; he did not request an immediate appointment; he did not share that he needed to talk to me as soon as possible. He simply identified himself and kindly asked for me to call him back and I did. The second time I returned his call, I intuitively left a message offering him an appointment time; something I rarely do before I have personally connected with a new, perspective client. Later that evening I found out from the referring professional that he had committed suicide.

I do not know this person. I have never met him. I do not know his circumstances. All I know of him is his is simple voice mail and his subsequent suicide. First I went through my own selfish mad ramblings: “I could have saved his life”; “I did not get back to him in enough time”, “It must be my fault that this happened”. After a few minutes of this harsh self-centered talk, I realized I was in the trauma reaction called Miracle-Worker Reverie as a result of this tragic event. But that’s about me and will probably be addressed in another Mad Ramblings Blog.

Right now, I want to speak to the client who never was and everyone he represents. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please remember that suicidal thinking is the result of being in an extreme shame attack. The suffering person is usually grappling with challenging life-issues or events that provide a context of seeing oneself as unlovable and worthless. The suicidal person believes that everyone he/she knows, including themselves, would be better off if they were dead. The struggle with this tidal wave of shame becomes crushing, as it overtakes its victim and ultimately ebbs into a silently-deafening rage turned on oneself. While I know basically nothing about this man, I do know that he lost his struggle to shame.

No one should ever have to feel that bad.

What’s tragic about all this is that shame can be healed. We need to remember that at times “it is darkest right before the dawn”. No matter what level of despair we may feel at certain low points in our lives, we still have options and choices for healing. Sometimes in life we find ourselves in circumstances that bring us to our knees in suffering, so that we may rise to a level of higher thinking and mental health. It is our responsibility to take the time we need to explore and discover that there are many healing paths out of our emotional pain. Please see below for some suicide resources. Please pass them along. Thank you.

Suicide: Read This First

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline