Made you look! Getting attention for serious issues
Yes, granted, it was a beautiful soup: a soup to end all soups, the mother of soups. A creamy white puree embellished with crispy lentils and chive oil to evoke a painting. And the glass of rosé? Well, the color alone would make you swoon.
So, like any good netizen, I snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook to great acclaim. Ditto my photo of parrot tulips in Central Park and the latest shot of my puppy watching Doc Martin on PBS.
A few days later, I decided to sign up to walk for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), a national organization that provides a variety of valuable services to people experiencing mental illness and their families. Added a photo of my smiling face and a link to NAMI Walks NYC.
No response. Later, a handful of my wonderful, diehard friends and family did chime in with their likes and pledges and I’m so grateful. But overall, the response felt underwhelming. Similarly, whatever articles I post on mental illness are usually greeted with the same radio silence.
So what gives? Do the posts look sponsor-generated? Too boring or too controversial? Is it stigmatizing even to comment? Or in this tell-all world, do I need to spill my personal woes?
Or maybe the subject is too big, messy, scary, fraught. But with one in five adults in the US suffering from a mental illness in their lifetimes, and the spill-over issues of homelessness, addiction, and wrongful incarceration (to name just a few), it’s too big to ignore. And nothing will get better unless we step up — ask for answers, demand change.
It might just be springtime talking, but lately I’ve been feeling a little more hopeful. I recently went to a sold-out 300-seat luncheon held by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the largest private foundation funding research into the causes and treatments of mental illness (formerly NARSAD).
Since 1987, they’ve awarded $365 million in more than 5,000 grants to over 4,000 scientists around the world. And with government cutbacks to NIH funding, the private sector is needed more than ever (see my article “Brother, Can You Spare A Billion?” https://medium.com/invisible-illness/brother-can-you-spare-a-billion-1440e27de61a)
Entitled “Women Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness,” the lunch event was hosted by Ellen Levine, Editorial Director of Hearst Magazine, and featured two highly esteemed researchers, Dr. Dolores Malaspina, an expert in schizophrenia at NYU Langone Medical Center and Dr. Myrna Weissman, an expert in maternal depression, at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. The doctors unveiled reasons for hope, advances in understanding the biological origins of certain diseases and some new scientific avenues to pursue.
But honestly, the best part was just being there, in a big room of people who understood. A committee member talked about her highly accomplished tri-lingual daughter who was going great guns until she suddenly fell ill. The speaker’s voice choked up, trailed off and we could all fill in the blanks. Someone at my table simply said that depression and schizophrenia “run in the family.” Such a mild phrase on the surface and yet we all knew the manifold horrors that implied and simply nodded our understanding.
So yes, scientific advances are the ultimate answer and they’re waiting in some distant future. But in the meantime, let’s keep talking. I was thrilled to see that Prince William of England posted a video chat with Lady Gaga wherein she talks about how helpful it was to come forward with her depression.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are also spearheading efforts in the U.K. to break stigmas surrounding mental health (see #HeadsTogether and #oktosay). On a video clip, they talk about how as they’ve worked with veterans and prisoners, the topic of mental illness keeps cropping up. Prince Harry notes how he saw a therapist when Princess Diana died. Princess Kate talks about the strains of motherhood.
The actor Glenn Close has come forward to talk about illness in her family and started an organization called “Bring Change 2 Mind.” Since 2010 when she began, this effort has reached over 1 billion people in its goal to fight stigma.
I’m sure there are many, many others doing this work, some of whom I hope to meet when I walk for NAMI this Saturday, as my little team of one. But if we all talk, even softly, together we roar.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
[This article first appeared on medium.com on 5/11/17