Two Frightening Reminders to Take Mental Health Seriously

Two Frightening Reminders to Take Mental Health Seriously

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the stigma of mental healthTwo mental-health-related stories made us take notice this week, the first for being a fascinating inside look at a young person’s involuntary psychiatric-hospital stay and ensuing suicide attempt; the second being a seriously sad obituary of Jiwon Lee, a successful NYC comedian and dental student whose body was found in the Hudson River as a result of suicide.

The Solution Is Never Black or White

In his post on Medium, Ben Benson (he of the striking username “AskaPsychoticKid” on Ask.fm) writes about the frightening serial delusions (part of a psychotic break) that led to him being hospitalized for—well, they actually still don’t totally know, which means that he doesn’t totally know, which sounds incredibly demoralizing and incredibly frustrating, especially for someone so young. He writes (and I wholeheartedly agree): “There’s no such thing as a completely accurate diagnosis or treatment…Finding a medicine that works is very much a process of ‘try it, it’ll either make you better, make you worse, or it might just kill you.’ Mental health is the Wild West of medicine.”

Yup—and repeatedly having to visit this Wild West can be nothing short of infuriating. I know because I’ve been a frequent guest (no delusions for me so far, but I’ve struggled with chronic depression since high school, and there have been all of zero psych meds that have consistently worked for me).

The Pain of the Gray Area

Jiwon Lee was a 29-year-old Columbia dental student who had also had an impressive, successful run as a comedian; tons of  her comedy-world friends have commented or tweeted about their sadness upon learning of her death. Lee had a history of depression and had, reportedly, attempted suicide just a few days before she went missing on April 1. Her body was found in the Hudson on Monday, effectively ending the search and bringing, I’d imagine, a painful and unwelcome resolution to some of the questions her family and friends had been asking since she was last seen in April.

Mental health issues and addiction have a huge overlap—and while addiction hasn’t been reported as an issue that plagued either Benson or Lee, reading about their struggles and the way those struggles have played out just makes me feel all the more motivated to start taking my (and other people’s) mental health more seriously.

Double Whammy

If you’re an addict or alcoholic, many experts would say you’re already afflicted with a mental illness of your very own (uh, yay?). Having two or more problems of this nature is known as “comorbidity”—i.e., two or more disorders happening in the same person. These conditions can occur at the same time or concurrently, and “comorbidity also implies interactions between the illnesses that can worsen the course of both.” Compared with the general population, “people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders,” which is just downright shitty.

I’m glad Ben Benson is trying to address his condition and shed light on a sickness that affects so many of us worldwide. It’s a pain that can and often does lead to suicide, and it deserves to be discussed more openly in the hopes of reducing the stigma.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.