On this Mother’s Day, as I find myself feeling more sentimental than usual, I wish that my mother was still alive to meet the grandchildren who were born years after her death and to know the young women, our daughters, whom she only knew as children. I wish, too, that she could have lived to benefit from all the advances in psychiatry and psychiatric medications.
In the first chapter of my memoir, FOUR ROOMS, UPSTAIRS, I write: “”Mother didn’t read to me. She told me stories.” Though some of her stories were colorful and amusing, the majority were sad and filled with the tragedy of her earliest memories and the loss of both her parents before she entered adolescence. It’s also true that my mother’s behavior – due to her frequent bouts with major depression -- often lacked consistency in what she offered as a parent, ranging from being loving and rational to the times when “she was not herself” and when she and all our family suffered. Yet, despite what we were denied due to her mental illness, I was never left feeling un-loved. That is the one loss I never suffered, though I know many people who have.
My mother’s love for me was always unconditional, and it is a gift I will always cherish. So, while our lives were far from ideal, I welcomed her love and continue to welcome LOVE every day of my life.
Since today is Mother’s Day, I naturally find myself thinking about her. But, May is also Mental Health Month, and I wish to honor her memory by focusing, as well, on the issues of mental health.
What still astounds me is the fact that though early detection and treatment is always stressed when referring to physical illnesses, the stigma of mental illness and emotional problems still exists today, often silencing those who are suffering and those who witness the suffering: parents, siblings, colleagues, or closest friends.
Researchers and clinicians study statistics and educate themselves about emerging treatment modalities, including the advances discovered in medications. Yet, all too often, the public at large remains ignorant and consequently powerless about what to do about the dark feelings they experience or the questionable behaviors they witness – all of which are outside the accepted norms.
Many of us, unfortunately, assume that we are capable of handling disturbing and potentially life-threatening problems on our own. Yet, that is the one thing we cannot afford to do. Call it denial, call it a paralysis to take action. It doesn’t matter what label is used, what matters is that we cannot allow emotional cancers to grow. We cannot ignore warning signs and pretend that by ignoring them everything will simply “go away.” We must educate ourselves or allow others to educate us, even though it is easier, at first glance, to think – especially when children are at risk – that abnormal behaviors are but a passing phase which will simply heal with time. In a small percentage of cases that is absolutely true. Yet, it is still wiser to err on the side of having an evaluation by a trained clinician, whether our concern is about a child, an adolescent or an adult.
The number of suicides, murders and rapes on college campuses, the abuse and then “disappearances” of women with disgruntled partners or husbands, the snatching of children by strangers who are listed as sex offenders or even by their own deranged parents, MUST NOT escalate further. Attention must be paid and treatment made available for those who are sick. Every sick person gone untreated and every person who takes the law into his or her own hands effects the very fabric of our society.
I would not, of course, have continued to practice therapy these past 25 years if I did not believe that each of us has the potential to alter undesirable patterns of behavior. With the exception, perhaps, of sex offenders, I believe that mental illness is, in general, treatable, especially when diagnosed and treated early. Some need and benefit from only brief treatment and others may need to be maintained throughout their lives; but, first and foremost, we must recognize when help is needed for ourselves or others.
On this day, I encourage all of us to honor the mother in each of us and in our daughters who are mothers. We must also honor the people who get the help they need to live healthy, productive lives, making good choices, learning how to best cope with life’s challenges and how not to hide and feel shamed by their genetic wiring. Getting help to improve whatever predispositions we may have inherited or developed is something each of us deserves to have.
The most recent statistics from reputable sources claim that there are nearly 1 in 3 Americans who suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. That’s more than 75 million people to be exact. And we know, too, that mental illness does not discriminate. It affects children and adults of all socio-economic backgrounds, and across all races and religions.
The bottom line is that every mentally well-balanced person in our society makes us all that much safer and healthier. Investing in mental health is an investment in our individual future and the future of the world. We cannot afford to turn our backs, pretending it does not exist. We must somehow be a part of the solution and not add to the problem.
Should you or someone you know need help, please get a referral from a trusted physician, a person you know who has benefited from being treated by a particular practitioner or a mental health clinic or agency in your local area that is known for having a good reputation. Call for a consultation. Interview whoever interviews you and remember that therapy is only as good as the clinician who is treating you. The relationship you have with that person is a microcosm of all relationships outside the therapy room. Therefore, if you learn all that you can learn from a therapist (with or without the added assistance of medication when indicated), you will gain the tools to be your very best person and, as the saying goes, to make lemonade out of what you thought was a lemon.
With all best wishes for a wonderful Mother’s Day to all mothers and in memory of my dear mother, I hope this is truly a month in which we will all be mindful of the need to pay attention to mental health issues.
If I am able to help you directly or to offer you good resources should you live outside the greater New York area, please leave your comments or questions on this website.