with your favorite social networking sites.
Are you or someone you know suffering from severe mental
illness? Get help quickly. A broken leg is less severe than acute mental illness,
which can and does kill. I’d rather have a permanent limp than my own mental illness –
at least I could trust my perceptions. At least I wouldn’t feel so low that I
could jump off a cliff.
I was in group therapy for alcoholism in the early 2000’s
when a new man joined. He stayed quiet for a while before piping up with the
reason he started to drink himself to death. He was a Royal Marine who fought
in a battle in the Falklands War of 1982 (during which Britain threw Argentina
out after Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands). His battalion fought in the
battle of Mount Longdon, where both sides ran out of ammunition. The order was
given to “Fix Bayonets” and they won the battle in hand-to-hand combat.
A woman in the group asked, “What has that to do with MY
problems?” If I had a bayonet right then, she would have been no more - such
was my fury at that comment. If anyone in the group had an excuse to blot out
their memories, it was he. In the UK we do not have a Department of Veterans'
Affairs (VA) and often our soldiers fall through the net. The US, the VA provides health and welfare benefits to soldiers, some of whom have done
and seen things no one should ever do or see.
On May 10 this year, the 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals issued a judgment
against the VA. Judge Reinhardt stated, “On an average day, 18 veterans of
our nation’s armed forces take their lives. Of those, roughly one quarter are
enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. Among all
veterans enrolled in the system, an additional 1,000 attempt suicide each
month. Although the VA is obligated to provide veterans mental health services,
many veterans with severe depression or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
are forced to wait weeks for mental health referrals and are given no
opportunity to request or demonstrate their need for expedited care. For those
who commit suicide in the interim, care does not come soon enough.”
The Court found that the system of mental health care for
veterans is not fit for purpose. The VA might appeal the Court's finding.
I once interviewed a man who had a sudden onset of psychosis brought on by drug abuse and the stress of
living in extreme poverty. One morning he thought ‘they’ were going to kill
him. He armed himself with kitchen knives and went out of the house. He found
himself on a bus, where someone was staring at him. He slashed out with his
knife, severely wounding the man. He jumped off the bus and ran. Someone gave
chase, and he pierced their heart with a carving knife. To this day I cannot
blame the guy, because given the choice he would not have killed
or injured anyone. His psychosis made him believe that he was in mortal danger. If you were pursued down the street by a man you thought was
going to kill you, and you had a gun, you’d shoot him. Unfortunately mental
illness can make fiction true, because you have no
reason to believe your mind is lying, and so you act on your perceived reality. My friend is not a ‘killer’
of the sort that murders for fun. He was an ordinary guy who was lied to by the
organ that gives you all of the information you have about the world you are in – the brain.
Mental illness is irrational. A person should be happy having
survived a tour of duty 5000 miles away from home, shouldn’t he? Instead he finds himself so depressed that he wishes to do the job that the enemy set
out to do in the first place – die. The worst thing about new cases of severe
mental illness is that in most cases the person doesn't know he is mentally ill. This
requires friends and family.
In my case, I was tricked into seeing my family doctor. She
asked me about the reality I was experiencing, which in my case was so
terrifying the film character Jason Bourne would have tried to violently
escape. When a psychiatrist finally convinced me that I was not a character in
a thriller novel but a man struggling to live his own life, the relief was the
greatest thing I have had in my life. It felt good to be a loser, because knowing
that I could start winning again.
Recovery from mental illness is all about starting to win
again. It shouldn’t be seen as a living death but as a fresh start in life. At
core, this is what being treated quickly for severe mental illness is about – a
Photo: Meg Wills, Creative Commons 2.0
Thanks for this perceptive insight Richard. The spectrum of mental ill health is truly a hidden epidemic, still inadequately recognised and treated.