Saturday, 8 June 2013

Mental Illness in the Headlines

A yacht powering it's way along the River Humber last night back to the back to the marina in the late evening sun
Mental illness has always frightened me in many ways. I think I might have put this on a previous blog, but it's worth me mentioning it again in the light of some news broken recently about actor and writer Stephen Fry and his attempt suicide in 2012 through his suffering from bipolar disorder. You can hear a moving account by the man himself here.

Ironically, I was brought up in a household as a child with a loving grandfather who had dementia and as I recall that never bothered me at all. He was an extremely old man (born in 1886), a World War 1 veteran (who lost a leg in battle) and who was blind.  He used to ask me to do tasks for him as both my parents were working and I spent more time with him during the day.

He used to talk to himself a lot, conversations with long lost friends and comrades, expressing opinions and showing emotions as if they were happening right there with those imaginary people - real in his mind. He wasn't violent, he was mild, funny and very undemanding really in the scheme of things given his age and disabilities. I guess his physical disabilities, his lack of eyesight for example (I can still see his glass eye sat in a cup in a cupboard - to be brought out on special occasions) and his lack of one leg are pretty obvious and are easier to cope with although it did cause problems.

His talking to himself wasn't much of an issue either I suppose because when called for he was lucid in conversation with us in the real world. I never pitied him either - as an impressionable youngster ( I was probably around 16 when he died) I thought this probably happened to all old people. I never looked at it as a 'mental illness' at the time.

Stephen Fry suffers with bipolar disorder which the BBC helpfully describes as someone who has has manic depression and severe mood swings - periods of depression where they feel low and lethargic - and mania where they feel very high and overactive.

His public acknowledgement of his condition and his reaction to his attempt suicide is interesting and I think he is brave to confront it and to acknowledge it which could potentially help others who are suffering or who may think they are suffering so they can get the appropriate help. It raises the profile of this very debilitating disorder.

I think what I find distasteful is the nasty reaction by a minority of people to it and the staggering ignorance when I hear the accusation (and I paraphrase) 'with all he's got, what has he got to be depressed about' is just extraordinary. Do we not live in the 21st century?  

In the UK, the saddest thing of all is that we have to protect those with disabilities by the need to introduce a law - the Equality Act 2010 to stop mindless discrimination and unfair treatment of those with disability, including mental illness.

I don't shy away from it although I admit to avoiding confronting it when I can, particularly with strangers mostly, but it's something that has to be acknowledged, certainly by those who don't think they have mental illness and who bizarrely castigate and criticise those who do.

Mental illness at whatever level from 'mild depression' through to conditions like bipolar is a serious issue for our society as a whole. In a former profession I saw the devastating effects of suicide on countless tragic occasions, not all through mental illness admittedly, but a large proportion of them were.

I haven't really explored why mental illness frightens me and I must address it. It's not my mental state or the possibility of getting a mental illness but my interaction and communication or relationship with those who have more serious and obvious mental illness that worries me. 

If you have ideas why I am like I am or if you feel the same way or can give me pointers or perhaps you have a story of interest to our readers, please feel free to leave a constructive comment.

Have a great weekend

Chat soon



  1. Mental Illness covers a very large inventory of mental disorders. I am border-line bi-polar and have been being treated for anxiety and clinical depression for more than 30 years. In my case it is inherited. I found it very helpful when my psychiatrist told me it is a medical condition and that's how he would treat it. It can be compared with diabetes. You take medication for lack of insulin. I take medication for the chemicals that are either too much or too little in my brain. In the eighties I was hospitalized for five weeks at my own request. Thoughts of suicide would come out of the blue and for what seemed to me for no reason at all. I was confident enough in my knowledge of my self-knowledge to realize that something was wrong. I thankfully had a Christian medical doctor who recommended a Christian psychiatrist and once we got the right combinations of medications, I have lived a fulfilling and normal life. I will probably take medication for the rest of my life, but I function normally and am so thankful that I live in this day and age when such medications have been made available. Fifty or sixty years ago it would have been a different story. It is somewhat comforting to know that illnesses such as mine and Stephen Fry's are heavily prevalent among highly talented and artistic people! (Take a look at well known artists musicians and writers etc.)Today there are extremely effective medications for schizophrenics, the greatest difficulty with that illness is convincing the patient to take his medications. The brain is an organ of the body and can become diseased as can any other organ. Mental illness is not pleasant because people fear the stigma, but the more we talk about it and acknowledge it the less stigma will be attached. I don't think of dementia as a mental illness. To me it is more a deterioration of the brain. If we could do brain transplants we could cure dementia. Again, for me, my confidence in the goodness of God and my strong spiritual sense of who He made me and what He intended for me to be, clearly showed me that I was ill and needed medical help. We are afraid when the spiritual and the mental cannot be clearly separated. I believed that when I could not control what I wanted to be and persisted in involuntarily denying what I knew to be the real 'me' I did not have a spiritual problem but a medical one.
    Well this has been a long answer but something which I think is vitally important in today's world.

  2. I suppose I too don't understand mental illness. If I'm scared it will be because I would hate to find I'm a suffer and not aware that I am.

  3. Chris, thank you so much for you wonderfully honest post, what a fascinating insight into how you think about it and I fully agree with your sentiments. Mr Fry makes the point in some cases that people take medication, feel better and then stop taking it because they feel it's done the trick and they descend once more. Thank you once more for taking the time to support the importance of raising the profile of this subject xx

  4. Hi Paula
    Isn't that the dilemma for us all - thanks for the comment

  5. An honest and open post. Mental illness touches my life every day too, both my mother and daughter suffer with depression and my mother is in the early stages of dementia. Both are receiving treatment but Mom believes (on good days) she doesn't need medication and on others thinks she has taken it's proving difficult for me to deal with.
    Rose H

  6. Hi Rose
    Thank you so much for posting, it is very emotional for me to see all your responses and how honest you all are. The thing is Rose, how many families are going through these issues with mental illness and how much of it is hidden from the world. I believe it might be a bigger issue than we realise. Bless you.