Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mental Illness and Drug Abuse

Last week I made the cover of the local newspaper, thanks to last week’s post. ( I’m hoping no one notices that isn’t really about me, though I find myself in the awkward position of talking about my subject matter while trying to blend into the background.

That’s been my life so far – blend into the background, and no one will notice me. Know what I mean? Mostly it works. I have a hard time breaking into social and business circles. I stay in the background, but I have things to say. Follow me on Facebook at and you can see how it goes.

One of the questions on last week’s newspaper article concerned drug usage among the mentally ill – specifically, with Stew. The commenter noticed it hadn’t been mentioned, and seemed to think it was some sort of oversight.
I never think to mention his drug and alcohol abuse because there wasn’t any. It is true that many mentally ill do self-medicate, often unsuccessfully, but that certainly isn’t always the case. In some cases people turn to drugs and alcohol because nothing else is working, and they’re desperate.

Sure, Stew used meds, many of them over the years. Anti-psychotics. Pills to help him sleep. Pills to help him wake up. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. Pills to make the mind calm down, so effective he needed another pill to wake the mind up. Usually there were 5 prescriptions at a time that he was taking daily. Stew would be the first to tell you that meds saved his life.

But illegal drugs? No, there were none. Drinking? Back before he became ill he’d occasionally have a beer, but it had to be a good beer. He’d never been drunk. Then again, he was a big guy, and it would take a lot to get him drunk, and he’d never attempted it. Once he started on the med merry-go-round alcohol was out. Pepsi was his drink of choice, and I don’t think there’s been any correlation between Pepsi consumption and mental illness. He didn’t smoke either. The no drinking, no smoking thing were two of the things I loved about him. My previous husband had been a prolific drinker and smoker and I was really tired of it.

We like to think that mentally ill people have caused their own problems. It would make it easier for us to dismiss them out of hand. “Deserved what he got, didn’t he? All that drug use fried his brain.”

Simplistic. Each person who has mental illness has their own story, and many of them do not involve self-destructive behavior. They do often involve trying to get past their illness before really knowing what’s wrong, which is like trying to treat cancer when you think it’s a minor infection.

When Stew moved back to California to live with his parents he went to the local mental health facility and they were confounded by him. He didn’t have problems with drugs and alcohol and he had all his teeth. He was an intelligent guy who had issues. But by then he had started stabilizing, fortunately. There are many like him, people who are just trying to make sense of what’s happening to them when the entire world seems to be askew.  

Then there’s the idea that if we just round up the mentally ill and treat them all their problems will be solved. I wish it were that easy. But what treatments work? Everyone is going to react differently to available psych meds, and some will benefit from a combination of meds and therapy, and some won’t. Then there’s finding the right therapy. Stew talks about that, in the book we’re writing (he’s done writing his portion, I’m still working on mine). How many different meds was he tried on? How many therapists? He’s lucky he did find a good therapist, and he’s lucky his med combination, despite serious side effects, eventually started to quiet the angry voices in his head.

Until you experience a demon in your head telling you to kill yourself I don’t think you can pass judgment on those who do. It’d be easier if we could though, wouldn’t it?

Next week: watch me be funny again. I can still do it, I swear.

No comments:

Post a Comment