Mental illness causes great suffering for the afflicted, profoundly affects families and loved ones, and is highly prevalent. As I share stories of my own family, I am routinely struck by how many people have similar stories of their own to tell – really heart-wrenching stories about their children, or their parents, or their siblings, which have shaped their own lives as well as the lives of their loved ones. And yet, we don’t much talk about it. It is like a great shared silent burden. Keeping these stories in the shadows compounds the pain of those affected and further stigmatizes mental illness and its sufferers.
Fortunately, I have seen recent signs that this conspiracy of silence is starting to change. Maybe it is a consequence of the “radical sharing” of the Facebook generation (no, I still don’t have an account), and partly a consequence of more effective treatment for serious mental illness. Whatever the cause, people are starting to talk. Here are a couple of examples, just from this last week.
The first was a two-part podcast produced by WNYC as part of the “Only Human” series that explored intergenerational conversations about mental illness. Part one focused on immigrant communities, and how children raised in America faced difficult conversations with their parents raised in other cultures. Part two was about a medical student who challenged her school and her teachers with an open approach to her own mental illness. Both are well-worth listening to, and may challenge your own thinking.
The other was a video produced by the Washington Post about a young composer, Rachel Griffin, who is developing a musical about mental illness to de-stigmatize her own story. I am proud to say that my daughter, Emily Nash is in the cast, and helping to bring the work to life.
These seem to me to be good signs of progress on a long road. What do you think?