Monday, October 27, 2014


"Take your daughter to work day" was a bit unorthodox for me. My mom is a psychiatrist and when I was young she ran an outpatient clinic for low-income, severely mentally ill residents of northern Manhattan. She was one of very few working moms at my school, and on school holidays I'd sometimes go to work with her. I'd cower behind her legs with my head half-way up her skirt while she chatted with people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, mania, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses. She told me not to be afraid of these people, but I was. They looked and acted weird, and they were scary. My mom had a lot of childhood trauma and suffered from depression and anxiety herself, which scared me too. She was sick for a long time, but she always soldiered through every day and did what she could to feel better. Years later, she wrote a memoir that described her depression and the new perspective it gave her as a physician. 

Corporate medicine; prescription drug abuse; vilification of the mentally ill (and mental health workers); and the overall stigma of mental illness obscures its gravity. Like high blood pressure or cancer, mental illness has both strong hereditary and environmental components. People all over the world suffer from it. As with most physical ailments, there are various therapies--including prescription drugs--that make people feel better and function the way they need to. Indeed, there are lots of very high-functioning people who wouldn't be that way without treatment. 

These diseases are the real deal. You are physically debilitated. You can't get out of bed. You can't work. You can't eat. You can't sleep, or you can't wake up. You can't quiet your mind. You can't stop crying. You can't stop thinking. You can't talk to anyone. No one understands. You're told to snap out of it. To be reasonable. People fear you and make fun of you, even your close friends and family. They pity or discount you. No one gives you a ribbon or raises money for you or joins a walk for you. You are alone. You want to die, and some people do. Now that's scary.

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