One week later…


So I’ve been processing the death of my grown-distant friend for a week now. It has shaken both Husband and I, not only because of the loss of a friend but also because of the realization that mental illness takes lives, and how close we or many of our loved ones have come to succumbing to it.

I didn’t realize, or had forgotten, just how many lives mental illness takes. I love information, am comforted by information, so one of the first things I did last week was go to the store to look for a book. The section on grieving was pitifully small, and of course they had none of the books that Amazon carried regarding grieving a loss due to suicide. So I took home a memoir – Madness – about living with bipolar, by an author whom I had read and enjoyed before – Marya Hornbacher – and I finished it today. It was a great read, and now I’m wondering what I can soak up next.

One of the things the book showed me was the bare statistics. They are surprising, given the level of attention that mental illness and bipolar get in mainstream society. According to the author’s research, a person with a serious mental illness has a life expectancy that is 25 years shorter than that of a person without mental illness. A little under 3% of the US population has bipolar disorder, and about 15-20% of bipolar sufferers have completed fatal suicide attempts. These numbers may not sound like a lot when compared to the general population, but if you move in circles where mental illness is more prevalent (as I do), they are very scary.

From the USA today piece linked below, there is this:

MEDICAL UPDATE FROM NIMH DIRECTOR THOMAS INSEL

Q: Medically, what’s new with mental illness?

A: (Until recently) there was such a focus on what I call the “blame and shame” approach to mental illness, where either your parents were bad or you were bad. We don’t blame people for having cancer or diabetes.

(Mental illnesses) strike early, cause enormous disability and lead to high rates of mortality. Of 34,000 suicides a year, 90% are in people who have mental illness of some sort. Now we know there are genetic factors that in some cases influence mental illness risk. One area is epigenetics, how environmental factors affect the genome. We didn’t have this picture five or six years ago.

So, the week was rough. Husband and I wanted to avoid thinking about it. We wanted to avoid everything. So to some degree, we did. I went to work, but pretty much all the rest feel by the wayside. This weekend was kind of tough, but I know we’ll be ok.

I overslept this morning. There was a staff meeting but I missed it. Last night I dreamt of the lost friend. Or maybe that was this morning while I was oversleeping. It was disturbing, but I guess it was expected.

Today Husband is going to get back to work, as am I. Last night I had to go to bed alone because he wasn’t ready yet, and this morning he said he didn’t sleep well. But he seemed determined to work and for me to go too. We both had some sense of just wanting to avoid everything (ignoring the outside world, I think he called it), but also a sense that we knew we had to get back to work so things wouldn’t fall any further apart, and that we had to just force ourselves to get back to it.

So, here I am. I spoke to a coworker when I got in this morning (er…noon), she talked of processing over the weekend, and we talked a little about our weekends and being close to people who have considered or followed through with suicide. She had a friend in high school who did, it turns out, and then in college she became an advocate for knowledge and prevention of teenage suicide.

I think I especially wanted to avoid this morning because I remembered how it was last Monday morning that I learned, and also today is the funeral (in a far away part of the US so I will not be there), and I just didn’t want to face the office. I’m sure it wasn’t good but I am kind of glad that I missed the staff meeting and can just sit and work alone at my desk today.

MEDICAL UPDATE FROM NIMH DIRECTOR THOMAS INSEL
Q: Medically, what’s new with mental illness?

A: (Until recently) there was such a focus on what I call the “blame and shame” approach to mental illness, where either your parents were bad or you were bad. We don’t blame people for having cancer or diabetes.

(Mental illnesses) strike early, cause enormous disability and lead to high rates of mortality. Of 34,000 suicides a year, 90% are in people who have mental illness of some sort. Now we know there are genetic factors that in some cases influence mental illness risk. One area is epigenetics, how environmental factors affect the genome. We didn’t have this picture five or six years ago.

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