succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Conference

Got back from the Active Minds conference last night, feeling that familiar combination of exausted but energized. First, it was tremendous to see Ali for the first time in three years, even if we only had a few minutes to really talk. She's doing great, and has built quite an organization, even if she insists on denying how impressive and successful it all is.

Friday night Gail Griffith spoke about her son Will's suicide attempt, and the book she wrote about their experiences. Happy as I am with my parents, I sort of want Gail to be my mom too. I wish I had the epilogue, written by Will, in front of me, because she read it as part of her talk and he tells this story about playing baseball with his friends and going out for beers afterward. And how during the entire game and while out for drinks he didn't think about depression once. And he says that's what recovery is like for him. And that's precisely what it's like. You always have maintanence to do when you have a mental health issue. But there are minutes and hours, and sometimes even days, when you're ok enough not to think about it. That's what getting better is. While he was still in the hospital Gail was trying to lay out a list of hopes, of possibilities, of reasons the future could be better, and she mentioned the light at the end of the tunnel. To which Will replied, Mom, if I could see the light at the end of the tunnel I wouldn't have done this. Which is also what it's like. When you're in it, you can't see it ever ending. You can't believe that there will ever be days that aren't like this. But if you've been there before, hopefully you have evidence that that isn't true. I can go back to my journal entries and remind myself that good days do follow the bad. The hard part is that when you're in it you're pretty much only going to believe yourself. So if you haven't been there before, and someone else has, and they tell you it will get better...I'm not sure it's possible to believe them.

The next day was Ross Szabo, from the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign. He reminded us how important it is as advocates to take care of ourselves, not to let our activism become a coping mechanism in and of itself. Which reminded me of how I used to take what I called mental health days when I was in high school. I'd come home and tell Mom I wasn't going to gymnastics that afternoon, I was taking a mental health day. I think I need to add those back into my life. A day when I have permission to do or not to do anything I want, a day when I refuse to feel stress or obligation or guilt. And a day that I refuse to rationalize.

The rest of the day was more specific exchange of ideas with other Active Minds groups around the country. In the car on the way back Amy and I chatted excitedly about looking up what sort of mental health coverage is included in student insurance packages at Emory, UGA, GA State, and GA Tech and what's provided by the largest insurance companies in Atlanta and what local legislation has been passed regarding mental health issues.

Analogies to physical ailments filled both days, and I think they're critical to keep in mind - Gail spoke about the awkwardness and shame with which people reacted to her after Will's attempted suicide. But if he had been diagnosed with cancer, everyone would have rushed to console her. No one would have been embarrassed or blamed her or him. Or if you blew out your knee, tore all the ligaments, you would probably be willing to share your diagnosis and treatment regiment with your friends, you'd talk about going to physical therapy, they would know when you went to the hospital for a new brace or crutches. And your insurance company (if you had insurance, which is a whole 'nother can of worms) would pay for your surgery and pain killers. Why should it be so different if you're diagnosed with depression or OCD or bipolar disorder?

And treatment works. A 1999 Surgeon General's Report found that 80%-90% of those who sought help, even for the most severe mental disorders, returned to functioning the way they did prior to experiencing the disorder. That's a higher success rate than treatments for diabetes or heart disease.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in 5 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. Some studies report an even higher rate among young adults 18-24. Chances are you know someone with a mental illness. If you're reading this blog you do.


Blogger amelia said...

i am so jazzed about active minds. FUCK YEAH.

2:34 PM  

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