Mental Illness on the Fringe

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Mental Illness On The Fringe

We’ve been running programs for substance abuse as well as introductory sessions on mental illness-mental health.

We’ve scheduled a fourth session in a series called Shanda: There is None for Sunday, August 16, Jewish Federation building. This is our mental health-mental illness opening. I call these sessions an opening because we are square one on this subject. I thought we were further along. We are not.

We also meet twice a week in support and teaching sessions called Shalvah on Addictions. Shalvah means serenity.

Of course the distinction between substance abuse and mental illness is elusive, false really, almost everyone in the addiction groups struggle with some form or another of mental illness and surely someone who has been taking drugs or drinking for some years will present as if he/she has a mental illness. Dual diagnosis. Almost everyone comes into the meetings with dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders; a mood disorder and a problem with substances.

Also there has been the anecdotal increase in tragedies associated with mental illness, those of us who are working the front lines know that. The statistics that we care about are people. We all know individuals who went down suffering with depression, other forms of challenges — the inner world when it goes dark. And the increase in use of heroin and other dangerous drugs in our neighborhoods and communities have multiplied; we know those stories too, we don’t have to cite figures from the NIMH.

We are under-prepared, under-educated, under-equipped. We are still laboring under the shanda curtain of shame. Some of us took on the shame barrier with drug and alcohol abuse starting in 1981 (see SLICHA), we are now turning our attention to the next hurdle which I believe is mental illness. We all have the experience in our families, some of us more hidden than others. We begin by talking about it; let’s talk about mental illness.

What to do, that’s always the question. Start with talk and more talk, real talk about real problems. We need to do that with depression and suicide and the other challenges to life that dwell within, the inner world when it goes dark. Take up a candle, light it, give that light to someone else.

Don’t let nobody go dark on our watch.

Here’s the pledge again. I wrote this pledge, and I took it:

The Pledge

1) I pledge to bring someone in. If I light a candle, I will share the light.
2) I will be a reminder in every way I can to my family, friends, and community: we have these problems, they are difficult, but there is no shame attached to them and we live in a Big Tent.
3) We can live with our problems.
4) I pledge to break the *shanda* barrier, which means:
5) Talk, talk, and more talk.
6) I pledge to remind my community that we are working our problems, that being secret may be part of the problem, therefore:
7) I will not practice aloneness. I will talk with somebody. I will pick up the phone.

*Shanda* means shame. There is none.

I’ve been using this pledge at all our sessions. It’s not sloganeering; It’s a raising of the curtain that hides our shame. Our shame is deadly when it keeps us from asking for help. The more we lift that curtain the more likely our most vulnerable ones will find their way to some help and some relief.

Our problems are serious, deep, numerous. Our problems are lucky to have us. Our devotion to them endless. Let’s get to work. Spend some time listening and talking, tell your leadership and your intimates and your trustables that we are suffering and we need to crack our best effort to split the darkness. We need to be a community.

Next session: Sunday, August 16, Jewish Federation of St. Louis. At 1 PM, strategies for professionals and organizers, amateurs and activists. We’ll begin the discussion: what to do. As a community.

At 2 PM, preparation for the Days of Awe.

Don’t respect the silence. Then push.

james stone goodman