To the editor:
This coming week — beginning Oct. 3 — has been designated Mental Health Awareness Week, a time set aside for further reflection on mental illness and the stigma that still persists against addressing it openly.
Clearly, much progress has been made in recent years. Seemingly every week, there is another story about an athlete or public figure addressing their ailment. Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have each courageously stood before the eyes of the whole world and admitted their frailty. How much their honesty has done to pave the way for others is hard to gauge, but I imagine it has been significant.
In this light, one might be tempted to say, “Enough already,” and to let it all rest. I do not agree, however, that such complacency is warranted. There remains much to be done. There are still far too many who could well profit from timely expert medical assistance, and who are too afraid to reach out.
By the same token, there are those who have begun the process of recovery who feel embarrassment or even shame for their actions. I think this current state of affairs might be further clarified. While certain forms of mental illness are becoming accepted, others remain beyond the pale.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the amount spent on anti-psychotic medication in the United States in 2020 was in excess of $11.6 billion — a number that is hard to fathom. As a point of reference, it was comparable to the revenue of the National Football League for that same year.
Who are all of these people? Where are they hiding? I like to think that I keep informed, but I hear precious little about them. They aren’t talking, that much is clear.
At the end of last year, I published a novel — “Continued Breathing” — that includes what I would like to think is a realistic rendition of a psychotic episode, enacted right down by our own Riverdale Metro-North train station, complete with an intervention by the able and compassionate policemen of the 50th Precinct, and an ambulance ride to the local outpost of the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
This is a novel, a work of fiction. Still, I would very much like to think it might do something to get the wheels of discussion going — not only in regards to anxiety or depression, but to broaden the conversation to include the many who regularly experience psychotic symptoms. There is hope here. That much I can assure you.
I believe that the underlying motivation behind Mental Health Awareness Week is a call for open expression about a subject too long kept hidden under the rug, or in attic closets. In the light of the open air, with a clean cool breeze blowing, lies better health for all.
I realize that, of late, the case has been made that over-diagnosis of these drugs among senior citizens in nursing homes may account for the rise in the numbers. This may indeed be one component of this complex situation.
In any case, getting these matters out in the open can only be good.