Today, after discussing People magazine’s article about teen suicides, my hygienist shared with me that her husband committed suicide a few years back. She explained that he had some type of mood disorder. He was never officially diagnosed, but she believes he was bipolar. One day, after deciding to stop his medication, because he was feeling good and thought that he didn’t need to take it anymore, he went out to the garage and hung himself. She explained that there was no warning, he wasn’t acting different or giving stuff away. It was just an impulsive act.
Two weeks ago, a student in my class shared that her mother was bipolar and hung herself when she was only 8 years old. Another woman who takes my class on a regular basis has a son that is bipolar and she hasn’t seen him for several years. He decided to stop his medication because he felt good, then he left his wife and children to live a life on the streets. To this day, she said that she watches the news for stories of a man found fitting the description of her son.
In my church, I’ve met three women with children suffering from mental illness similar to my son’s. Several are doing good, currently under treatment and taking medication, while another is lost since he’s stopped his medication after starting college.
What strikes me today, as I think about all these stories, is how they seem to be everywhere. It seems odd that the doctor’s talk about how rare these illnesses are, yet I’m continuously surprised by another familiar person sharing their once hidden story.
I don’t know if it’s the phenomenon where once you drive a particular car, it seems everyone has one, but regardless, I’m convinced that mental illness is everywhere and I’m surprised on how well it hides itself. I’m also surprised that with so many people having first hand experiences with it that it still has a stigma.
Another thing that struck me, was how common it was for those suffering with mental illness to stop taking their medication because they felt they didn’t need it anymore. It makes my stomach ache just thinking about the consequences of those actions.
I don’t know what lies ahead for my son, but I hope to teach him today the importance of staying on his medication. It’s right up there with the importance of staying off drugs and alcohol.
I hope that we can all learn from each other as we raise our children to become thriving adults. I hope that the stigma of mental illness vanishes, allowing those who’ve lived through it to teach those of us that are still on this journey.
Nothing is learned from being hidden. We need to open up and help one another.