One half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. (1) Despite effective treatment, there are long delays - sometimes decades - between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help. (2) (derived from the NAMI fact sheet, references at the bottom)
I was born with allergies. I am allergic to the outside in the spring and ragweed in the fall. I received allergy shots through most of my childhood, and was on medication from when I was very young for allergies. I dread spring and know what I must do to take care of myself to be healthy. When I was 9, I developed asthma. Again, I took medicines and learned misery when I skipped a dosage. I quickly discovered that the spring time jaunt in a field of flowers was not worth the misery of a stuffy nose, swollen eyes and lack of breath. I stay inside in the spring. I take a lot of medications. I take a lot of showers in the spring. It is what I do to take care of myself and my lack of natural antihistamines. It's who I am, who my children are and who I will always be. And so when I tell someone, "I have allergies", it's accepted and unquestioned and no big deal.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, (AAFA), 1 in 5 Americans have allergies and asthma. (4)
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, (NAMI), 1 in 4 Americans have Mental Illness in any given year. (3)
Yet, if I state that I am not feeling well because I have depression, it opens a HUGE can of judging worms.
Beginning of my story (the family tree):
When I was a child, I knew something was "not quite right" with my father's side of the family. My grandfather had been ousted, my Aunt was the "crazy" aunt. She was Normal but had kooky way of doing things. She was dramatic and histrionic. She had obsessive compulsions and was quick to blame. I never knew why she was like that but I was always told "She just is like that and she is family so we love her anyways."
My grandfather on my dad's side was a pro of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. He knocked my father, aunt and grandmother down with hurtful words daily until my grandmother divorced him and he was banned from the family; long before I was born. We weren't to talk about him. When he showed up at our door unannounced, we were told to go to our rooms. (That only happened three times in my life). Our phone number was unlisted because of him until he died in 1999. His genes travelled through the family tree in a quiet and sometimes very loud way.
My father, may he rest in peace, was a loving man with some very weighted genes. He, like Bobby,
(click here to read about Bobby) was constantly swimming to the surface with weights on his ankles. He had difficulty communicating because he did not have a positive role model of a father to look to for guidance. His words would hurt and it would cause major turmoil in my house. He would get help often and be on and off medicines, always trying to regulate and sort it out. But the weights kept returning.
When I was a senior in high school, he lost his job, all eyes were on him. We were walking on egg shells. Would he rise to the surface or sink in deep depression? He did a lot of both. However, in that time of him being unemployed, he realized that he had clinical depression and he began to figure it all out. (For more information on Clinical Depression, click here) He was on anti-depressants for the rest of his life. It took him until he was 50 to figure out his mental illness and how to treat it. If he had figured it out as a young child, my life would have been so different. If there wasn't a stigma and we had talked about it, I would have understood so much more at a younger age.
The mental illness in my family wasn't discussed and yet it was a HUGE part of who I was and what my family was and is.
Oddly enough, I am somewhat thankful for my mental illness. It was one of the bonds my father and I shared. It was the catalyst of us having a real relationship.
Have you had a "Kooky" relative who actually had a real mental illness? Was or is mental illness talked about in your family?
1 Kessler, R.C, et al. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
2 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2005). Mental Illness Exacts Heavy Toll, Beginning in Youth. Retrieved March 5, 2013, from http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jun2005/nimh-06.htm
3 NAMI: http://www.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf
4 AAFA: http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30