Keep Hiding the Mentally Ill

Our union of communities, the United States of America, and its branches of government has upheld inalienable rights for many diverse Americans. As the nation grew, it struggled with racism, economic injustices (including imprisonment) and the right to live differently from other people. We care for others. Yet we continue to struggle with old and new prejudices.

One prejudice we still struggle to ameliorate is the stigma associated with the mentally ill. Yes, the mentally ill are very different. They can be noisy, destructive at times and create awkward moments. I know firsthand; I grew up with a developmentally disabled sister who has mental and physical disabilities. My parents kept her at home until the efforts for one child endangered the other children. My three brothers and I all hurt when she entered the state hospital system 50 years ago.

Growing up with Donna was awkward at church, restaurants and most other places. People stared. My mom made our presence pleasant by somehow keeping us children active with Donna. Later in life, I would visit Donna at one of many state or private facilities and give her a day of freedom at a restaurant, cafe or even fast food. People still stared. Yes, mental illness takes much getting used to. A lot.

Recently, an issue seared parts of my community about preventing a mental health facility to be built near a school. Would you allow or deny the placement of a secure facility in your town? If so, how far away on the outskirts? Next to the jail or another marginal facility? Do you care to allow treatment of the mentally ill, like other illnesses, within the reach of other medical services or should mental treatment centers be in specialized buildings or locations?

Have you seen the joy from competitors in the Special Olympics, a rewarding activity promulgated by the late Rose Kennedy? Have you known of a relative or another person described as “a little off,” “short a sandwich,” or just “whacked” and kept away from others, or put in “a home”? Some people still publicly joke about the mentally ill. But what if it was your relative, sibling, parent or another acquaintance?

The critical question: how much does the humor and hiding of mental illness, perhaps the preservation of the stigma, prevent the mentally ill from healing and immersing with the community? As civil servants, we can make a difference if we care.

Submitted by Geoff McLennan


2 thoughts on “Keep Hiding the Mentally Ill

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is a very thought-provoking article, and I agree that we have failed our most vulnerable. It is heartbreaking to think that our society has not evolved further on human rights issues, and we sadly feel that imprisoning/institutionalizing a person is the answer or at least the best short-term solution. Also, to see and hear so many that feel no responsibility for the world they live in beyond their home, business or religious institution is incredibly sad. To simply state that someone is the way they are or made a decision that lead them to where they are today is disheartening. I can say I have made poor choices in my own life and having an incredible group of people who were willing to allow me the time to heal, figure it out and change direction while giving me the room to maneuver, backslide and eventually get on the correct path for my own life made my journey a little softer.

    We have to navigate this big world as a community. Suffering from bipolar disorder made me unlovable, unapproachable and a bit off for a LONG time, but I was a lucky one. I challenge others to “adopt” someone who is unlovable, unapproachable and a bit off and allow them a safe and loving place to turn their life around. If you are unfamiliar with the mental health establishments of today and modern psychiatry, I challenge you to educate yourself. Just getting someone on the correct medication can take a lot of time and can make one a bit unpredictable. Love them through it; hold their hand; pray for them; cry with them……take time to look beyond your own life, and I assure you, you will love more freely and be blessed beyond measure.

    I want to be involved in the solution, as a public servant. I remember being told that I could not help everyone. That may be true, but while I am here, I plan to help as many as I can, and this population is near and dear. After I read your story, I had the pleasure of meeting a person in an organization trying to bring change in our community. I am excited about the project they are spearheading, and discussed your article with him.

    Thank you again. My thoughts are a little all over the place, but I look forward to reading more and being part of the solution as time goes on.


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