Why is Mental Illness a Dirty Little Secret?

There aren’t many days that go by when you don’t hear about someone committing suicide. Whether it be someone famous, someone you knew from school, or in your current life, it’s an alarming trend. Last year, I read an article on Sports Illustrated’s website about the apparent suicide of Washington State quarterback, Tyler Hilinski. He was 22 years old. He was found in an apartment with a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head and a suicide note was found.

My question is, what happened? Obviously not what happened physically, the evidence speaks for itself. But where in Mr. Hilinski’s life did something break down? He was doing well for himself by all standards, he appeared in eight games and started in Washington State’s 42–17 loss to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl. He served primarily as the backup to senior Luke Falk and threw for 1,176 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. He was slated to be the Cougars’ starting quarterback going into the 2018 season. So, what went wrong?

Where was his tribe? I am not blaming those around him, don’t get me wrong. What I am asking is, why are we still feeling stigmatized to the point where we don’t talk about mental illness? Why are we still hiding our troubles, our fears, our depression, our anxiety? Why are we not seeking and obtaining help?

Mental illness is just that, an illness. It is no different than having diabetes and leaving it untreated. If you are diabetic, and you don’t take insulin, or change your diet, or do whatever it is that your doctor prescribes, your health will rapidly decline. So why is it, when it comes to mental illness, we hide in the dark? There are treatments, medications, therapy, etc. If we know we are diabetic, have thyroid disease, cancer, etc. we would take our medication, be compliant with treatment because we want to get better, be healthy. So why do we not take care of our minds in the same manner?

Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

For years, there has been a stigma attached to anything relating to mental illness. In families, the “crazy relative” is talked about in whispers, or not at all. When a suicide occurs, it’s swept under the rug at times, or family members say they had no idea there was anything wrong. Often times, they are right. The person who died may not have said anything, never shared their pain and torment. Other times, they did seek help, and it just wasn’t enough.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was my normal. My father suffered from schizo-affect disorder (not what it was called back then) and was institutionalized for the majority of my childhood. Visiting him at the mental hospital was commonplace. He sought treatment in every shape and form he could afford. We participated in family therapy. He was one of the lucky ones. He had phenomenal insurance that afforded him the privilege of being able to see some of the top psychologists and psychiatrists in the country. He was a patient at The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas for quite some time, one of the best in the country. Not many people have that option.

And it still wasn’t enough. He committed suicide in 1991, when I was 13 years old. In one of the notes he left, he said that no matter how many different types of medication he tried, no matter how much he poured his heart out, no matter how much he loved his family, he never stopped feeling like he was a burden to everyone around him, never stopped being in pain, and he just could not deal with it any longer.

What about those who don’t have a tribe? Who aren’t surrounded by loving, caring, supportive people? Who don’t have access to phenomenal services? What are their choices?

The system is broken, like so many systems are.

In my humble opinion, the best thing we, as a society can do, is continue to talk about it. Make it less of a stigma. Treat people as we would want to be treated, and give them hope.

Because no matter how much support my father had, he never felt like he could tell the world about what was going on with him, because he did not want to be judged. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the source of his greatest pain.

And in the end, I feel that’s what hurts anyone dealing with mental illness the most. The stigma and pain that arises from it. Being told, when they do open up, to friends, family, whoever, that they should just suck it up. That it can’t be that bad. To just get over it. Someone else has it worse. Let’s remove those statements from our vocabularies, because they aren’t helpful. Let’s continue to talk, but most of all, let’s learn to listen.

Let’s bring hope. Someone has to break the cycle.

I think, therefore, I write. ccuthbertauthor@gmail.com /Posts may contain affiliate links.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store