It's news that leaves you morose--Robin Williams, the comedian and actor who brought us Mrs. Doubtfire and Patch Adams, is dead from an apparent suicide. The news made me reflect on my battle with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and my own thoughts of suicide. There are three lessons to learn - know when to ask for help, keep on seeking help, and always remember that suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
More than Borderline
I was diagnosed with severe mental illness while I was a sophomore in college. I was suicidal, which prompted an emergency psychiatric evaluation. Unfortunately, it also prompted eviction from the dorm and suspension from school. I later got the director of the counseling center to admit--on the record--that the policy was more for the benefit of other students than the suicidal student. It was not the most compassionate of policies. So how can colleges and universities help students with mental illness?
After being medically discharged from the Army, More Than Borderline's Becky Oberg returned to Indianapolis to begin mental illness treatment. She soon learned that her location determined her access to borderline personality disorder (BPD) treatment almost as much as her insurance. She first saw a doctor in private practice, but transferred to a sliding-scale clinic after her COBRA ran out. She became suicidal and psychotic, but the hospital that treated cases like hers from her county was full. She was admitted to a different hospital, which wiped out her life savings because she was not eligible for its reduced rate.
If you haven't seen Kristen Bell's take on a minimum wage versus a living wage, you need to. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, there's a side that isn't being told--life below the poverty line while on Social Security Disability. Did you know that a person with the maximum disability benefits receives less than a full-time minimum wage earner? Or that 80% of mental health consumers are unemployed?
Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of mental illness. A report by the President’s New Freedom Commission states: Stigma refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses. Stigma is widespread in the United States and other Western nations . . . It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.
My brother recently posted a picture of a T-shirt that read "It's an Oberg thing. You wouldn't understand." This struck me as funny because our last name is not exactly common. It got better when I started reading the comments--all these other people with the last name Oberg who thought they were the only ones was intriguing enough, but my favorite comment was, "Has anyone else spent their life going 'No, it's not Irish, there's no apostrophe?" I loved the whole thread. It taught me an important lesson about group therapy--namely, it can be just as effective as individual therapy.
Life with borderline personality disorder means accepting the fact that some days will be better than others. Recently, I had a bad day. My therapist has suggested several different ways to distract myself from self-harming in hopes that I can put it off until the urge passes. Here is what's worked for me.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that an employer does not need to cover contraceptives if it conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief. Some are saying it's a victory for religions liberty, others say it's a startling setback for women. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But this is a column about mental illness, and what the recent decision means for mental health consumers. In short, we're in danger.
In September of 2008, More Than Borderline's, Becky Oberg, was in a state-run psychiatric hospital. As she reflected on her life, she wondered if her journalism career was over. After all, she'd failed to find a job and had been fired from her dream job for having a dissociative episode while on the clock. It did indeed seem her career was over due to the stigma against mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).
My apartment complex has become infested with bedbugs and roaches, so the landlord has moved us to a small hotel in northern Indianapolis. The move has been chaotic--some of my neighbors have left altogether, some have been threatened with arrest for panhandling or smoking, and getting to medical appointments relies on a superb knowledge of the bus schedule. Yet I'm holding up well thanks to Alcoholic's Anonymous (AA) and therapy. It is possible to have serenity in the midst of chaos.