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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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 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

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

My husband suffered a complete breakdown in 1987. One day he was on duty as a police officer and the next day I was leading him around by the hand. Life was never going to be the same. We were thrown into the mental health treatment system which was foreign to us. We had been married for 13 years and every health care professional quizzed us about self-abuse and abuse of each other. Some never did believe that physical, drug and alcohol abuse were not factors in our lives. My husband worked very hard on his recovery. He carried a shallow hope that he could return to police work, but accepted training to become a computer operator. He worked for 11 years with an insurance company before recently having his position eliminated. During this time, I was his chief advocate. We felt like we were writing the book on how to deal the mental health care system. Ten years into his recovery, I learned about the NAMI Family to Family classes through a small ad in our local newspaper. I wondered what I could get from these classes, feeling that I knew it all. I did learn a lot, particularly about being able to separate the man I loved from the illness. More importantly, I was able to help another woman, with a son who had just become ill, to see that she could survive and come through the challenge a stronger person. I continue to be stunned and amazed that, during those ten years, no doctor, social worker or hospital told us about NAMI and the education and support we could find there. At the conclusion of the classes, I vowed that I would do what I could to get the NAMI message out to those who need it before they had floundered for ten years as we did. My mother and I trained to teach the Family to Family classes. We often hear how those people have shared the NAMI message with people in their lives. I attended national training opportunities to train teachers and support group facilitators. In August of 2002, I was hired as the NAMI-Oregon education coordinator. This is my heart work. I continue to be grateful that life changes allowed me the time to take on this important work. I was able to see that my background in emergency dispatching and work for local government, combined with my passion for NAMI, had given me the perfect set of skills to coordinate the training and support of the wonderful NAMI volunteers in Oregon. Volunteering and working for NAMI is the first time I have experienced such a deep passion for a cause. I am also a spokesperson for the Silver Ribbon Campaign for the Brain (www.sikverribbon.org) to increase awareness of the silver ribbon as the awareness ribbon for brain illnesses and injuries.

  —Alice
  Oregon

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



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 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

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 14, 2003

At first they said I had depression, then they said bipolar, then DID/PTSD. I don't really know what I have b/c I don't have insurance anymore and had to stop treatment (it doesn't help that insurance companies won't take me b/c of "an existing condition"), but even I know I need help. Everyday is a struggle to stay alive and to stay sane. But, it's so hard b/c I don't trust anyone and w/o my meds I don't think rationally. Yet, I know if I don't do something I will die of my suicidal attempts one day. Not many of my friends know about this and I most definitely haven't told my parents (Asian) b/c of what they will think or say. I don't want pity, but I need someone to understand. One of the things I that hurts/makes me mad the most is when someone says: "just deal with it." Do ppl think me/we enjoy wallowing in sadness!? Do they think I would put myself through this on purpose!? Would you tell someone who had cancer: "just deal with it?" So why do you tell ppl with mental illness that?

  —Anonymous
  California

Opens in a new window Learn more about:
• Clinical Depression
• Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder)
• Post-traumatic Stress 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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