This was my final essay in my expository writing class.
| When Sue was in sixth grade, she had a fit of anger and dragged down a boy six inches taller than her and 50 pounds heavier. She grabbed him by the collar and had him down on the floor before she realized what she was doing. When she was a junior in high school, she panicked over not having her poetry speech done and ran to the locker room, sobbing, making her coach chase her down. The year after that, she got into an argument with a friend and kicked her school books down the hall. When all the kids put out boxes that others were supposed to put compliments in, Sue got messages like, “why are you so mean all the time,” and “stop being such a drag.” Sue was confused and depressed, not knowing why they would say these things to her, and not understanding why she had these mood swings. When she was 21, Sue was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She learned quickly however, that her diagnosis was not one she should share with just anyone she met, as many people looked at her as “crazy” or “unstable.” When she tried to explain what her problems meant for her, people often waved her off and accused her of making excuses for her behavior or feelings. She learned that there is a stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, especially in south central Nebraska. The only way the stigma of mental illnesses can be overcome is to educate people, especially teenagers, about mental illnesses.
Sue graduated from high school and joined the US Army Reserve. She lived a seemingly normal life, mostly by just learning how to put on a happy face. She married at 19, and had her first child. However, although no one knew it, she was deeply depressed. At 21, after having her second child, she began having strange fantasies of putting her first child in a grease barrel behind the building in which she worked. Afraid of these fantasies and unable to stand the depression any longer, she admitted herself into a mental hospital where she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and placed on the psychotropic medication, Prozac. When she returned home, Sue was happier than she remembered being in years. It was like she suddenly was seeing in color again. For approximately one month, life was good at Sue’s house. Until she started having thoughts about killing some of the men she was close to. She began making plans of sneaking up behind them with a butcher knife and stabbing them in the back repeatedly. Things got worse when Sue got the impulse to harm herself. She began cutting her arms with any sharp object she could get ahold of. Although her husband and counselor tried to convince her to stop, she couldn’t, and she didn’t know why. Finally, one day in early February of 2007, Sue hit her breaking point. After struggling to do housework with a baby and toddler screaming continuously for her attention, she locked herself in the bathroom and dismantled her husband’s razor to use the blades for cutting. After cutting herself, she went to the bedroom where her children were and cut her five month old daughter on the leg. The cut was approximately one inch long and less than a millimeter deep, but it changed Sue’s life forever. Her children were taken away and put into protective custody, and Sue again admitted herself into the hospital, this time being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Sue’s story, while deeply unpleasant and somewhat disturbing, is not that uncommon. According to nami.org, of Nebraska’s approximately 1.8 million residents, close to 61,000 adults live with serious mental illness and about 20,000 children live with serious mental health conditions. It seems like the diagnosis of depression is being handed out to almost everyone these days, and bipolar disorder is even becoming quite common. There are commercials for psychotropic medications, such as Abilify, Seroquel XR, and other depression medications. The commercials explain how depression feels, but can be misleading to the uneducated viewer. The commercial for Seroquel XR describes the patient as “fading into the background.” While that is true of most bipolar patients, it doesn’t give any enlightenment to the manic phases the patient may go through. While in a manic phase, a person may talk very quickly, not be able to sit still, may “bounce off the walls.” The patient may not need to sleep much, and may be more apt to self harm and have a very short temper. It may appear to an observer that the patient is acting unreasonable or “crazy.”
In south central Nebraska, high schools offer a psychology class to seniors and sometimes juniors. This class is psychology on the most basic level. They will give a rundown about the parts of the brain and what they do, and will most likely delve into the realm of psychology, focusing on the history of psychology and major names, such as Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of modern psychology, and, most specifically, Sigmund Freud, who is the most well known psychologist of all time. Students will learn about classic conditioning, motivation, and some mental disorders. Even if the students do learn about depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders, they really only scratch the surface, which can really create more misunderstanding. And even if the student does decide to do more research, the fact that they really do not know what to look for can lead them to information that is biased or incomplete.
A simple solution to the lack of information for teenagers would be to have a presentation where a mental health counselor, psychologist, or even a patient would speak about depression and other mental disorders. After all, schools educate about eating disorders, sexual health and family planning, but they don’t seem to put much emphasis on something that most teenagers have no idea about: mental health. Because bipolar disorder is more likely to manifest in young adulthood or after a physiological change, doctors don’t often look for it in teenagers. They will often be told they are acting out or just reacting to the surge in hormones caused by puberty.
Another problem patients of bipolar disorder face is applying for jobs. Most job applications ask for your most recent employers from the present as far back as they were of age to work. When there are large blanks in that, it is often asked in the interview why the person wasn’t working. Although an employer cannot refuse to hire based on mental health or reasons they haven’t worked in the past, it will have an impact on the employer’s opinion of the patient and they can make an excuse not to hire the patient. Also, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can make someone very undesirable as an employee due to mood swings and breakdowns. Many patients may try to file for disability because they cannot work. The application for that is frustrating and takes a long time to come to a decision. And the probability of being accepted the first time is very little. Although the decision can be appealed, the idea of doing so may seem daunting, and for a bipolar patient, it can be very hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In Lexington, Nebraska, there are three places that are known for counseling. Heartland Counseling is a place where patients can see counselors and a doctor for a sliding scale fee and also get samples of their psychotropic medications if needed. Goodwill Services works closely with Heartland Counseling, so it greatly helps those patients who need assistance with their treatment. Lutheran Family Services also provides sliding scale fees, but they are much higher and don’t last as long. Being titled Lutheran Family Services makes people think that it is an organization that pushes Christianity and may make them less likely to seek help there. Family Life Clinic offers counseling without pretenses of religion, but only has one counselor who is there only once a week. If one were to go to any of these places, they could get a wide variety of information on mental health disorders. However, because of the stigma surrounding mental health, one wouldn’t want to be seen going into a place of counseling because they don’t want to be seen as “weird” or “crazy.”
It would not be much trouble to hold an assembly at a school or church where someone could give a talk about mental health. Many adults are perfectly willing to learn, but have trouble knowing where to look and don’t want to “stir anything up.” A counselor, doctor, patient, or teacher could present the information in a way that captures the attention of the community and informs in the most basic way without making it seem “creepy.”
Sue regained custody of her children eight months after the cutting incident. She has been hospitalized three more times in the last three years because of cutting and has applied for disability and been denied. She has tried working twice but has failed due to a fear of authority that sends her into panic attacks. Recently, however, she has purchased a home, taken charge of making her life decisions, been expunged from the central abuse registry, and began taking college courses. She has a desire to live her life and take a stand on ridding south central Nebraska of the stigma that paralyzes so many like herself. And the best part of all of that is that Sue is me, Nicole Sue Treacle.