When I was 13, I became bipolar with psychotic features. Nobody knew. No bells or whistles went off. My father had the same condition, but we dismissed his scary irrational rages as “Daddy has a bad temper.” Just so, my endless misery and dramatic oversensitivity was dismissed as “Debbie’s a difficult teenager.” Never mind that I wanted to die, made strange scenes, and thought God was talking to me sometimes.
Decades later, my parents admitted to me that they suspected I had a serious condition. But they decided that if I saw a psychologist, it might interfere with their carefully inculcated Fundamentalist religion. So they did nothing. I was 26 before I was diagnosed, and it was another 8 years beyond that before I could be stabilized. That is 21 years of agony that can never be returned to me.
What would my story be like if somebody in charge had recognized the truth? What if I had been treated in time, before I wrecked my teens and twenties and lost all my childhood friends? I’ll never know.
But somebody is about to do something. President Obama’s latest budget includes $130 million to train teachers and other authorities to identify signs of mental illness in students and provide them with access to services. Another $50 million will go to training people at the Master’s level, to augment the shortage of mental health professionals. You can see more details of his plan in a Washington Post article, here: http://wapo.st/12MlAvJ.
It is vital that our students are reached and treated early in the onset of their disease. Early treatment makes an enormous difference in outcomes, particularly for schizophrenia. This is a budget appropriation that all the mentally ill and those who love them should be solidly behind. Because I expect there will be lots of lawmakers who do not want to spend this kind of money.
Lawmakers love to talk about improvements, but when it comes time to write the checks, the mentally ill are often the very last in line. Unfortunately, there are people out there who believe that the answer to tragedies like Newtown is merely to register us all like criminals and make sure we can’t buy guns - not take the time to recognize our problems and treat us.
I’d like to urge all of you to keep a watch on this part of the budget, whatever you may think of President Obama on other issues. This is going to come up for argument, and we need to be ready to write letters and make phone calls to support this use of our tax dollars. Nobody has to have a story like mine. In the land of the free, nobody should.
Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at Amazon and other major vendors. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.
Causes Deborah Fruchey Supports
NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill)