Serious Mental Illness Family Dynamics

There was a time when people who had serious mental illnesses as defined by the DSM were sterilized. There was a man named Oliver Wendell Holmes. He was an influential judge and writer mostly a judge on the US Supreme Court. He was often quoted by his contemporaries. He was honored here in the States and in Britain.

He said that people with disabilities should be sterilized to “prevent our being swamped by incompetence.” It was in this case of Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck had been sterilized in Virginia because it was thought that she was “mentally defective.”

Today, 1 in 5 people in the US have had a mental health diagnosis during their lives. With the Olympic athletes now discussing their mental health, speaking about personal issues with head space is becoming more mainstream. But…

I think that it will get easier. It will be easier for people to talk about their feelings and try to cope with the things that bother the most. This will only come when families decide to face the stigma bravely.

Many years ago, I was in a meeting with the President of the local chapter of NAMI and she joked about the population of diagnosed taking to the streets in some kind of march. I just looked at her then, over fifteen years ago, and knew that it would be different than women’s rights marches or the fight for the civil rights of people of color. It just would be. Could it be done? Should it be done?

I think that it is better to help each other in the rooms of doctor’s offices, in groups, in family reunions and at work. It is very difficult for me to discuss my problems with people at the office, people whom I meet in the world or at school. I don’t know why I can write about it so easily in this blog. I keep thinking that this is my spot to bring up things, events or people of importance to share with others.

Families have to watch children being sent to institutions. Friends stand by their friends who have to go see the counselor. Siblings make sure that their relatives don’t act on self-destructive impulses. Pastors listen to their sheep complaining of sleep lost and nervousness. Everyone is affected by those 1 in 5. So, it must be almost all of us that are affected. So why do we always try to hide it?

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