Last week I was nominated to do the #22Kill push-up challenge.
If you are involved in any form of social media, chances are high that you know what it is.
I had seen in floating around Facebook. I’ve seen many of my friends doing push-ups.
I knew the campaign was to bring awareness to the fact the suicide rate among veterans is extremely high.
But other than that, I didn’t know all that much.
So I started doing a little research and asking questions because I wanted to know more about the whole movement before I jumped in.
I am definitely no expert on suicide and mental health care for veterans.
But I am much more informed today than I was a week ago.
And what I’ve learned is this:
1 ) Many veterans struggle with PTSD and depression after transitioning from military to civilian life. This often leads to suicide.
2) Many veterans are reluctant to talk about the things that led to the PTSD or depression at all, or they feel much more comfortable talking not to family members or spouses, but to the people who can truly relate — other veterans — about it.
3) Veterans are often told to shake it off, or something along those lines.
4) The quality of treatment readily available to veterans may not be adequate.
Here is what I think.
It won’t solve any of the immediate problems. But I think it will help some long term problems.
And while this is definitely a big issue in the military, the bigger problem is that it’s a major issue across the board.
There is still a stigma attached to mental illness, no matter who is affected by it, and there is still A LOT of ignorance surrounding the issue.
Like I said before, I’m no expert on mental health issues in the military.
But having been hospitalized more than once for, among other things, depression, having seen dozens of therapists, having tried many different types of treatments and many different types of drugs, I do know a thing or two about mental illness as it relates to civilians.
I was reading the Humans of New York Facebook page, and there was a series of posts from Gerard Ilaria, head clinician at Headstrong Project.
I loved everthing he said. But I really loved this:
“… the maddening thing about PTSD is that it’s completely fucking fixable. The narrative about it has got to change. PTSD is not Uncle Joe from Vietnam. It’s not homelessness. It’s not a heroin addiction. It’s not the end of the world and it’s certainly not suicide. PTSD is an anxiety disorder and we can treat it. But you’ve got to get help… If your nervous system is broken, it needs to be fixed. Just like a broken leg needs to be fixed. It’s that simple. You may have served with guys who don’t have issues– that’s great for them. But that doesn’t mean they are stronger than you. It means they don’t have the same nervous system as you. It’s not weakness. It’s science. And it can be solved.”
He was talking specifically about PTSD as it relates to veterans.
But this applies to everyone. EVERYONE!
Whether you are in the military or not, people are still so reluctant to talk about mental illness, in whatever form it takes.
There is shame.
And like I said before, ignorance.
Lots of ignorance.
And I know the saying is Change comes from the top down.
But in this case, I don’t think the adults who are telling people in the military to suck it up are going to see the light.
Old dogs. New tricks.
But, I do think we can educate our children.
Obviously we continue to do everything we can to help and treat people of any age who are suffering now.
But we need to change what we are teaching in our schools.
Maybe not change.
But revise. Update.
Our kids need to learn about mental illness in school. Our kids need to learn how to ask for help. Our kids need to learn what the warning signs are. Our kids need to learn that everyone is fucked up and that sometimes, some people are seriously fucked up and that’s okay.
Just like they learn about periods and wet dreams and erections and pubes and all that shit in sex ed, they need to have mental health ed, too.
But unlike sex ed, it shouldn’t be a one or two week unit.
It needs to be ongoing.
We talk to our kids about how some of them are born being really flexible or being really good at math or being really good athletes or being blond or brunette or blue eyed or green eyed.
We also need to talk to them about how their brains are all wired differently.
And just like the therapist who was interviewed on Humans of New York said, we are all born with different brains. We are all wired differently.
Anyone who has more than one child can tell you this.
You can have two kids that were created from the same penis and the same vagina, but they are completely different.
And you see this the moment they come out of the womb.
One newborn can be completely mellow and laid back and easy and then the next one causes you to question why you ever reproduced in the first place.
You talk about your kids with other parents and you tell them your son is your sensitive one and your daughter is your fearless one.
You worry constantly about one kid while you have almost no concerns about another.
Our kids need to know this.
Not that they should be labeled as shy or quiet or loud or whatever, but that some of us are more predisposed to mental illness than others.
And our children need to learn that it’s okay to acknowledge when they are struggling. That seeking treatment is a smart and healthy and strong thing to do.
Our children need to hear from other children and from other adults that they have gone through the same things. That they are not alone. And saying they need help out loud isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of true strength!
Our society was once uninformed about the dangers of smoking. We were ignorant.
And then we found out that smoking gave you lung cancer and oral cancer and emphysema and that it fucked up babies and that second hand smoke was really bad. And once we became educated, we stopped being ignorant and started teaching children about the dangers of smoking.
It doesn’t mean that all kids will say no to smoking.
But it sure reduces the chances that they’ll try it.
The ignorance surrounding mental illness has to stop, too.
Parents, you are the customer in your school district, and as paying customers, you need to demand change.
Our children need to be educated on this issue. Unfortunately, for many adults, it’s just too late. They won’t see the light. They will forever believe in that suck it up mentality.
This doesn’t mean we don’t do everything we can to help those who are suffering now and to facilitate better awareness and understanding and treatment for those of us (which is, at one point or another, pretty much everyone) who are in need of help.
But if we want to erase the stigma of mental illness, if we want to reverse the ignorance, we need to start at the bottom.
We need to demand change in our schools.
Once we do that, once we educate our children, we create a society of adults, of parents, teachers, leaders, and soldiers, who are educated. And no longer ignorant.
And then the stigma of mental illness will fade, and change will truly be possible.
My daughter was 15 when she was hospitalized for depression the first time. That started many, many years of trying this pill or that or this therapy and on and on. What I remember most about that first hospitalization though is that her father wanted us to lie and say she went away to school. How can you tell your daughter and your other kids that it’s an illness and then lie about it? I don’t know what he said, but I never pretended.
And I learned first hand that the mental health stigma pales compared to what we went through when she committed suicide at 34. It’s way worse than having a child in hospitals. But I still didn’t lie. Because those stigmas will not change if we lie about reality.
not your average mom says
Lynne, I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. But you are right — when we feel shame about mental illness and are unwilling to talk about it, we only make the problem worse. Good for you for being honest. Hang in there.
My daughter’s boyfriend died by suicide in December of 2013 and another daughter has attempted 3x. The mental health system sucks. But if you keep at it, things can get better. We finally found her diagnosis (borderline personality disorder) and researched treatments and luckily there was a DBT (therapy for BPD) right at her university. Keep at it. Help can be found. At 21 she is doing great now. I pray for all those who suffer from depression. especially veterans. They must feel so alone. In addition, I can’t even imagine people in Syria trying to survive the after-effects of war, let alone war. It tears my heart apart. They survive war and still have to deal with the PTSD after.
not your average mom says
So sorry to hear about your daughter’s boyfriend, Carrie. I’m glad to hear she is doing better. I was diagnosed with BPD about ten years ago and I also went through DBT. It takes a lot of work, but you can definitely come out on the other side of it!
Susie, this post is spot on! I work in the mental health field as a crisis counselor in the ER, some of my biggest challenges are educating families, demystifying diagnoses, getting them to see all kinds of mental illnesses as,well, illnesses! I am the mom of 5, and talk to ALl of my kids, aged 12-22 about theses ideas, what I see, substance abuse, etc., the list goes on. your idea to educate in the schools is brilliant, it would validate kids feelings and experiences so much. thanks for this post!
not your average mom says
Thanks Elaine! I’m working on it. Seriously.