Are we simply painting mental illness with one broad brush stroke in the end?

It’s starting to feel a little like any violent gun crime is being linked back to a shooter who is labeled as mentally ill. I readily admit that I certainly have no way to know if each individual recently arrested or still awaiting trial after many years is or isn’t mentally ill.

So who does?

That would be the $64,000 question, wouldn’t it?

art-1532092-1279x957Ann and I flew back several years ago to the National Institutes of Health to participate in a recommended study by our neurologist. It was here that the mental illness was discovered and we began our personal journey of just what it means to travel through life with a mental disorder.

This included educating ourselves.

From the NIH website:

“Mental disorders include a wide range of problems, such as anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias; bipolar disorder; depression; mood disorders; personality disorders; and psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.finger-paint-1522109-1280x960

“There are many causes of mental disorders. Your genes and family history may play a role. Your life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, may also matter. Biological factors can also be part of the cause. A traumatic brain injury can lead to a mental disorder. A mother’s exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals while pregnant may play a part. Other factors may increase your risk, such as use of illegal drugs or having a serious medical condition like cancer.”

The Mayo Clinic offers this insight:

“Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

“Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

“A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at work or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy).

“Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.blackglue-tm-1510713-1278x904

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.”

Phew, that’s a pretty long list of things to watch for, right?

The tough thing is that many of these symptoms could have a completely different cause. Also, it has only been in hindsight that I realized I had a significant number of these symptoms as part of my life from as early as my teenage years.

But when I was in the middle of it, I just couldn’t see it. You know; the whole forest for the trees thing.

Yes, it seems easy after the fact to turn and blame things on the mysterious and all encompassing “mental illness” villain.


But by then it’s too late. And the tendency is to simply take a wide, arcing sweep over it all in one color to place appropriate culpability.

But mental illness isn’t a broad-stroke kind of painting. Mental illness is made up of many small, fine, detailed brush strokes of many different shades.  If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that each case of mental illness is pretty much as unique as the DNA of the person struggling through it.

For example, it took me years to finally figure out what the definition of depression meant in my life. I remember just staring dumbfounded at doctor after doctor who diagnosed me as a depressive because I certainly didn’t “feel” depressed. I knew I wasn’t one of those people who live in darkness and lie on the couch all day and only see the negative in everything.


That’s an incredibly frustrating feeling – knowing that you and your doctor are really speaking two different languages.

So what’s a guy to do?

Turn to his family.

We know the family is the basic unit of society and of eternity. The destruction of the family is the destruction of us all. So, we’d better do all we can to protect it.

When we figured out that my depression manifests itself as extreme physical and mental exhaustion rather than emotional sadness and despair, we could begin to face it head on and tackle it.


It actually took each member of our little family band of four working together to grasp what we were living, and had lived, for decades.

So, why throw all this information at you?

You may be someone who has several items from the above list as full-time stalkers in your busy life; or, you may be the family member of someone who matches the list a bit too

Either way, slow down and take a closer look at the work of art in front of you.

The family is best suited to be the one who can pick up the small brush to paint the intricate individual colors that make up the child, parent, or spouse. With this close up look at the unique canvas, it is easier to find the place to start.paint-brushes-1420824-1279x852

That’s the key isn’t it? To tackle things from the start, rather than everyone being covered over by that strong, wide brush stroke of a painful, single color at the end?

It all begins when the mentally ill person lets their family know which colors to choose from.


So keep talking and listening and seeing and hearing, no matter what.



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