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West 47th Street

Premiere Date: August 19, 2003

   

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Mental illness touches millions of lives, but each story is different. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans struggles with some form of mental illness in any given year. Research shows that getting to know someone with a mental illness helps fight the stigma and misunderstanding that surround these disorders. Learn more about what it's like to deal with a mental illness from these personal stories submitted by viewers. Or share your own! You can browse stories by clicking on the menu below or you can view a fact sheet and learn more about specific topics by clicking on a topic below.

Anxiety Disorders More info

September 30, 2003

After working in the "System" as a Forensic Psychiatric Social Worker, I feel that I have touched these people's lives in a way that I never dreamed possible. Only those who work with these very special people can truly understand their needs. There needs to be more education on the elementary thru high school level for all children in the country to give them a greater sense of responsibility for the mentally ill.

  —Judith (CSW)
  New York


• Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
• Substance Abuse



August 26, 2003

I will begin my story by saying that through no fault of my own I am a victim of circumstance. I developed severe depression after a long marriage with an angry, abusive husband. I was his whipping post. He took out on me all of his frustrations for being a poor provider for his family. That's just one part. Post-traumatic stress disorder is how mental health workers described me. Also, I was abused severely by the doctors, hospitals, and mental health professionals here in California. I was treated terribly, abusively by the staff. I was thrown out on the street without any medication. They kept it and called the police. They wouldn't let me have what I brought in with me. The cops were also cruel to me. I was homeless at the time. No one cared. I was told to keep on moving down the road. I had no money. I was sick and degraded. I ended up in the hospital numerous times, had nowhere to go. You see, I fell through the cracks in the system.

  —Annie
  California

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder



August 25, 2003

My son, 48 years old, has been struggling with diagnosed OCD, anxiety, paranoia and depression. The last five years he has been living with me. He is on SSI, medicare, and medicaid. He was in denial for many years and would not accept the stigma of mental illness. Since living with me he has had 5 episodes. We try to work with the system but there are so many limits. I believe the years have taken their toll on him. He goes on and off meds. Reading about his mental disorders and going to support groups like NAMI, I've learned so much. Mostly about two kinds of treatment for his disorders.Cognitive Behavioral and response therapy. Though thousands of dollars of medicare money have been spent on meds and hospital episodes, the above treatments are NOT COVERED which is probaly the best teatment recommended for his OCD etc. He cannot hold a job. He has been unemployed for 15 years. He now admits to his illness but needs the proper help.

  —Estelle
  California

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder



August 25, 2003

Living the life of mental illness is an ongoing struggle for most people. My first hospital visit was when I was 14 for a suicide attempt. I was misdiagnosed with depression and treated with antidepressents. It was discovered after 6 visits in the psych wards that I was bipolar sometimes going without sleep for 5 days at most with horrible delusions and horrible hallucinations. They said that the antidepressents aggravate bipolar disorder when not taking a mood stabilizer together. I became a cutter which for anyone who shares this horrible obbsession will understand. With the scars people look at you like you're some horrible freak. I drank and used all sorts of drugs including a long-period use of esctasy which can damage your seratonin receptors permanently. I am now 18, still with no success, with a horrible anxiety condition that has made me house-bound for 8 weeks now. The point to me sharing this is because I still haven't given up, no matter how much I've wanted to.



August 25, 2003

I was 9 years old when I was playing with matches in the room. The house burned down. Nobody knew it was me until 30 years later. At 15 I went to county jail and was raped. My trauma was set. I was a heroin addict for 22 years. Drugs became my solution not my problem. I was 40 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on medication. That was the last day I used any illicit drug. Since then I have graduated college, I'm now in grad school, and coordinate a program for mentally ill substance abuse (MISA) for chronically mentally ill. My clients do not know my history.



August 22, 2003

I see people everyday with all types of mental illnesses- from chronic schizophrenia to bi-polar, major depression to borderline personality disorder. But like I said, I see people- each with their individual strengths, abilities and personalities. I work at a Fountain House Model clubhouse- Bridge House in Bridgeport Connecticut. I get angry when I see the stigma my members have to deal with daily. The way people assume they're ignorant or dangerous. The way the government cuts the most needy first. I wish more people understood that having a mental illness is like having diabetes. They didn't ask for it or get it by being bad people. It's a disease that with the right treatment and/or medicine, most people can live a "normal" productive life. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

  —LG
  Connecticut



August 21, 2003

I am a psychiatric survivor who is now a mental health professional. Stigma regarding mental illnesses still exists but there are many of us who are making this our life's work: -to educate the public and those affected by mental illnesses/distress -that there IS hope and quality life -there should be no shame involved. Not every mental health consumer will enter the professional mental field, but we still need your advocacy, education and leadership. My story began when I became ill at age 26, with such severe depression and anxiety, that I received over 40 ECTs over a period of 12 years. Via the education, support and training of mental health advocacy groups, such as DBSA, NAMI, and MHA, I gradually recovered my self esteem and became an enthusiastic mental health advocate and leader. Today, I hold a Master's degree in Licensed Counseling and work with mental health clients in an empowerment type of mental health clinic and drop-in-center. My story is not intended to bring attention to myself, but to ENCOURAGE other mental health consumers, family members & educate the public regarding the truth about mental illness, recovery and how stigma should be abolished. I am always happy to share with others regarding my experiences and yours.

  —Julaine
  Colorado

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Clinical Depression



August 21, 2003

About the time he started middle school, my son started showing a lots of anger, his grades fell, and he began shoplifting. After one terrible fit of violence, I had him committed. They moved him from doctor to doctor (it was a teaching hospital), then put him on an antidepressant. Once he was out, he refused his meds and refused to talk to doctors. His school and shoplifting record eventually got him put into a Wilderness Camp. He came back ready for high school a changed boy. Within a year he started showing symptoms of type II bipolar disorder (no mania). It took us four years to recognize it, and by then he was headed to the Army. He made it one year. He was a mechanic in the Army but that frustrated him. He was a machinist until the pressure got so bad that he committed himself because he was suicidal. He's 23 now and I hadn't been able to get him to take meds. This did it, but because he went to state agencies, the workers weren't well trained. He said it was so long since he felt normal, he didn't know what normal was, so he couldn't tell them when the meds were wrong. It was also difficult to get him to keep his visits: he didn't like going alone, his wife felt there was nothing wrong with him, and she didn't think she should have to "babysit" him. He ended up suicidal again. I brought him to a private doctor, who straightened his meds out quickly. His marriage fell apart, but quitting his job and leaving his wife relieved so many pressures that he felt better. He still gets depressed, but has been off all meds since November and is doing well. He is night manager of a McDonald's and very proud of himself and how far he's come.

  —Anonymous

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Clinical Depression
• Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)



August 21, 2003

2 and 1/2 years ago, I was diagnosed as hypothimac--it's best described as a milder, chronic type of bi-polar disorder. In my thirties, my symptoms of anxiety slowly worsened, not uncommon for perimenopausal women. I count myself lucky, in that I seem to stay pretty aware of consensus reality. Although I've been through several episodes of clinical depression, including suicidal thoughts, I've never fully lost hope and attempted suicide. All the same, this disease has impacted my life deeply. Since childhood, I've often had enormous difficulty in falling asleep, and as I've gotten older, the problem has worsened. At 44, I now also deal with frequent "early awakenings". No natural or allopathic medication works consistently; when they do, it often leaves me groggy and/or depressed. Like so many with this disease, I'm fortunate in being gifted creatively. I have a body of poetic work written largely at times when I've shifted into a heightened, almost right-brain state, due to lack of sleep. I have tried Zoloft... I really want to stay off the drugs if I can; we don't know the long-term effects, and they leave me flat and creatively deadened. I know folks for whom the drugs have literally been a lifesaver, and I'm so glad that this option now exists. However, now mainstream society and the insurance companies put lots of pressure on us to go for the quick fix, and damn the cost. Accupuncture has proven to be greatly helpful for many of my symptoms, including managing insomnia, but of course, the crappy insurance I struggle to pay for doesn't cover it. Even as a person with a realitively mild (if challenging ) mental illness, with some support & living in a liberal community, I've still felt the stigma surrounding this kind of disease. People become afraid, there is a tendency to cut the "weaker" animals from the herd. So those of us who can, struggle to pass...it's a waste of energy. Thanks for the film, and this forum.

  —Lilith

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)



August 20, 2003

For many of us with psychiatric histories, the concept of "mental illness" just doesn't fit our experience. "Illness" implies a pathogen, which is not the case for people who experience extreme mental or emotional states. The literature shows that the overwhelming majority of people who end up in the mental health system are survivors of childhood sexual or physical abuse; again, that is not an "illness." And those of us with psychiatric histories can be subjected against our will to things like electroshock, powerful mind-altering drugs with devastating side-effects, physical restraint, and a host of other so-called "treatments." This issue is not about "illness," it's about how society deals with people who are different, living on the margins, or experiencing difficulties in living. We don't have "diseases," therefore the diagnoses you list here are not relevant to the real problem, which is a human rights problem.

  —Darby
  New York



August 20, 2003

My story has a positive twist regarding mental illness. I am 37-year-old professional and the daughter of an alcoholic and a schizophrenic. This has been lifetime struggle for me to cope with. The only diagnoses Ive ever had are occasional bouts with generalized anxiety and IBS. My story relates to my boyfriend of a year. He has moderate OCD, gets excellent treatment and is considered quite successful by societys standards. I wouldve never considered engaging in a relationship with a man with an SMI prior to knowing him. Too socially unacceptable. The beauty of dating him is that I do not have to hide my own history. I have spent my life in fear of judgment by people I get close to. With him, I can let the curtain down, be myself and allow the issues that are a result of my own insane childhood to emerge. No more hiding. Not to say that we do not have occasional struggles related to his OCD but for the first time in my life I am allowed to have a struggle or two of my own and they are met with

  —Anonymous

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
• Schizophrenia
• Substance Abuse



August 20, 2003

My siblings and I suffered mental and physical abuse at the hands of our parents throughout our lives. We were raised in a religion which excluded us from outside socializing and most traditional holidays. Our father was the "hand of god" and carried the rod without reinforcement of nurturing. As a result, several of us have had to go through counseling for depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and most recently schizophrenia. My youngest brothers are twins, have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. One brother, who has suffered physical pain from fibromyalgia and hears voices. He was overmedicated, in pain and frustrated and tried to purchase a gun to end his life. Now the justice system has accused him of lying on the application based on a technicality and without consideration for his history or conditions. I fear that his living situation, probation process, and fines incurred will push him further over the edge. He is very angry with his situation but is a gentle, sweet, and creative person.

  —Tere

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Clinical Depression
• Schizophrenia



August 20, 2003

I had a nervous breakdown at age 22 in 1954. It manifested as severe anxiety and depression coupled with agorophobia and claustrophobia. I was not hospitalized. I have been dealing with it for 47 years. I was in therapy for 5 years and since then have relied on self help. I still have extreme anxiety at time and depression but do not want to take medication. I overcame a moderate problem with alcohol. I put myself through college. I've been married 26 years.

  —Janet

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Clinical Depression
• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
• Substance Abuse



August 19, 2003

Each time I encounter the metaphor, "mental illness," I wonder how many people who employ it would also employ "physical illness" in the same manner: "People with physical illness", and I know the answer: None. The public prejudice of the "singular" illness is one of the worst of the sources of prejudices we face. I am also bothered by the prejudice of "the." I believed we had learned from WWII the heinous results of categorizing people by a "the," but we have not. The first of the "the's" to be medically murdered were "the" mentally ill, in a gas chamber invented by doctors, Brandenburg 1939. There is no "the" mentally ill, it IS a Nazi metaphor, and it survives. Why? There is no "the" homeless, it is the same metaphor. Why must we endure it.

  —Harold A. Maio
  Florida



August 19, 2003

Born: 1962 Treated for ADD: 1969 - 1974 Drug abuse while away at school (cannabis, hallucinogens): 1979 - 1980 Hospitalizations, as per schizophrenia and bipolar: served 4 1-month terms, 1980 - 1983, community hospital psych wards. Graduated college, BSEE: 1988 Civil Servant: 1988 - 2003; minor nervous collapse; panic disorder: 1992 Currently: DSM IV 295.70; schizoaffective/bipolar type; under meds management, office visits. Live alone in owned 4-bedroom colonial on 0.21 acre. I think it was my parents that made me follow the rules and stick with the program, so they get most of the credit. I have a job with strict quotas, only I like to take my time and follow a ritual (e.g., OCD). My EEO prospects are dim, from reading the handout. But then, year after year after fiscal, never-take-a-risk-al year, I somehow pull in what I need. I am 41, earn 6 figures, and will die with many toys. I suppose I'm stronger than I think, living alone in that big old house on the cul-de-sac. Like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, I would think that repeated humility, mixed, too, with sad disillusionment, has given me this strange prize.



August 18, 2003

I have had multiple diagnoses over the years, the most current being Schizoaffective Disorder. It's been a struggle and I have been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I have overcome childhood abuse and alcoholism. I don't ever remember not being clinically depressed, even as a child. There were times when my anxiety was so high I couldn't leave the house. Then, in my late teens and especially in the late 20's, the paranoid and delusional thoughts began. My life in "reality" began about five years ago with the concept of recovery. Today, I hold a job as an executive secretary, am married, and have a beautiful 4-year-old daughter. I will always take medications and have a counselor available when things get too overwhelming. I have a great support system. Recovery is possible if all of these factors are in place, but it also takes being willing to look at myself and be honest with myself at all times. I have to be responsible and do simple daily living tasks, even when I don't feel like it.

  —Anonymous
  Ohio

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Clinical Depression
• Borderline Personality Disorder
• Schizophrenia



August 18, 2003

My kids are brilliant (near genius actually), caring, compassionate, busy, active, funny kids in spite of their daily struggles. ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression: ask my kids and they understand, they know - and so do their friends. When our son talked of suicide at age 7 I knew we needed help. Medication and support therapy for anxiety, ADD and bipolar disorder has helped him lead a near normal life. But he's going to need it for life. His brother is ADHD (wow!); dad struggles with ADD, anxiety and depression; I have battled depression since childhood. Looking back, the problems we face go back for generations, though no one dared admit it back then let alone get help. Fortunately, I sought help for us all, and with medication ($250 a month WITH insurance!) and support we're doing great. I work daily on educating and trying to erase stigmas so my kids have a chance. We are blessed with good insurance and can get the help we need. We're lucky. Unfortunately, there are millions out there who can't afford the help or don't realize they don't have to suffer. I hear horror stories of moms denying themselves medication so their kids can have SOME (not all they need) of their own. (Imagine having to fight your own mental illness battles without medication and keep it together enough to help your kids!) We need a system to help these people. It'll be cheaper in the long run -- and we'll have a happier, less stressed, healthier, and more productive population. Keep up the good PR ... it's tough for those with mental illnesses, but there's immense help available. We need to make it accessible for ALL. Reducing stigmas, educating the masses and providing medical support are the keys.

  —Anonymous
  Michigan

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Anxiety Disorders
• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
• Clinical Depression
• Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)



August 7, 2003

I was molested by a family member starting when I was very small until I reached puberty. As a result of that and of the social climate where that was allowed to happen, I struggle with depression, suicidal feelings, and a sometimes irresistible desire to hurt myself. Over the years, I have heard a mental health professional say that sexual abuse isn't damaging to the child. I've been told by a psychiatrist that "there was no excuse" for me to still be experiencing difficulties and in therapy. Too many times, staff in psych wards are verbally abusive and blaming. I'm not telling you this because I want pity. I'm saying these things because I hope you can make people feel on an emotional level and in their gut, what it's like to live like this.







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