THE WAY SOCIETY TEACHES US TO THINK ABOUT SMI IS WRONG by Nikki Landis

 Nikki and Kevin

Nikki and Kevin

Another hospitalization. Please keep us in your prayers. 

I always question how much I want to put out there, but not talking about it reinforces stigma. Kevin's brain isn't working right. It's just another organ, folks, with a disease just like diabetes or heart disease. Unfortunately years of stigma and the "mental illness" myth has severely impacted research and treatment. 

Does our society allow 80-year-old patients with dementia decide they don't want to take their meds and live on the street? Or do we make sure they have a warm bed, a roof, food, clothing, and medications? There is almost no difference in symptoms between someone with serious mental illness (SMI) and someone with dementia/Alzheimer's. But nobody says, "He has the right to be homeless and refuse medication" about someone with dementia. 

Someone with heart disease isn't accused of being heartless. Everyone recognizes the heart that pumps our blood isn't the same thing as the heart we fall in love with. When a brain is sick, it isn't the same as the mind. Kevin's mind is still in there. It may not be able to control his brain malfunctioning, but it is completely separate from his actual brain. 

We call it mental illness, but it does a great disservice to the patients. Their mind, the part that loves and cares and wants to be happy, is still in there. There are many disease processes that affect thinking that aren't stigmatized. Yet I know dozens of families that are going through heartbreaking situations with SMI in their families and are scared to talk about it. 

I've never seen the fear of Parkinson's patients that I see of mentally ill patients. How many people know that Schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease are the same disease process? Hypoglycemia is to Diabetes what Parkinson's is to Schizophrenia. Simply different sides of the same coin. Over 50% of Parkinson's patients experience psychosis.

So while Kevin is in the hospital fighting a sickness that is trying to take his life, please take the time to look differently at the woman in the mall having a conversation with herself. Or the man pushing the shopping cart down the street that hasn't showered in a week. They are absolutely no different from the dementia patient in a care facility, or the Parkinson's patient in a warm bed, except that our society doesn't see them. Our society gives them "the right" to live on the streets hungry and alone. 

And don't forget the veterans who risked their lives, many of them giving everything except their lives, who have been left to fend for themselves by a government that signed a contract to take care of them. There are thousands of veterans being mistreated in "Behavioral Health Units" at VA hospitals across the country. As long as our government (and every single one of us that has a voice) allow the VA to even say the phrase "Behavioral Health" in regards to our veterans with brain diseases stemming from chemicals, burn pits, controversial medication practices, PTSD, military sexual assault (which is rampant, people), we are allowing the mistreatment to continue. 

I can't change the world. But maybe, as I sit here looking at my beautiful children who love their father despite his brain not working correctly, I can get a few people to change the way they look at things. The way society teaches us to think about SMI is wrong. The seriously mentally ill (neuropsychological disease, brain disease), are not happy living as though they don't matter. That's a lie everyone tells themselves so they can keep ignoring the problem. People with SMI have families who love them and have tried to move mountains to help them. There are laws to protect their "right to be sick," even though society wouldn't allow someone with any other disease process that significantly impairs thinking to exercise that "right."