Stand-up comedian, Dave Mowry, has a mental illness. He wants us all to understand that it doesn't make folks like him any more violent than the broader public, as a whole.
Dave has bipolar disorder and severe anxiety and suffered in silence for most of his adult life Five years ago Dave took a stand-up comedy class and it transformed him by showing him how to find humor in his darkest experiences. Dave now teaches stand-up comedy to other folks with a mental illness and sees the same transformation happen in them.
His article first appeared in BPtoday.
We are not dangerous. We are friends, neighbors, family and coworkers. We are stars and other notable people such as Carrie Fisher and Robin Williams and most of us function well in this life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health 18.1% of population in the United States or 43 million Americans live with mental illness. I am one of them.
I have bipolar disorder. I have suffered from the stigma. I have faced discrimination in personal, work and business life. I have been the one hiding in the shadows and suffering in silence because of the stigma of my bipolar disorder and severe anxiety disorder.
Those of us with bipolar disorder have been the ones at family functions who stand in the corner praying that no one come up and talks to us. If someone does, we respond with one word answers hoping to make the contact as short as possible. We dare not meet their glance for we know that if they looked our eyes they would see into our soul and the suffering and emptiness inside.
Oklahoma's legislators don't seem to understand this. They now assume that having a mental breakdown, is worthy of a stay in the county jail, rather than a hospital.
See, the majority of police calls to the scene of a person losing grip on reality; results in a charge of something like 'Disorderly Conduct' or whatever pathetic excuse a cop can find, so that the public has a sense that an unstable person won't bother them.
The massive problem is that in the past 15 years Oklahoma has ended the 5000-bed state-run mental health infrastructure(which our constitution mandates). We have less than 400 beds now. Cops cannot offer the delusional person the option of a psychiatric hospital evaluation.
This is the fault of the Oklahoma Legislature. Taxpayers now pay more than double the taxes by criminalizing the illness. Our cops procede to destroy these fragile lives by denying them a medical leave from work, taking their children into foster care, and giving them the humiliation in their community by having a police record.
The court fees, county jail fees, DHS fees, and disability fees are not the only wasteful result. The jailed ill person rarely gets a real psyciatric evaluation, medications, therapy, or family encouragement.
We have been the ones who experienced the lost years of living in the depths of our bipolar and anxiety. And we have been the ones to come out the other side inspiring many and offering help and hope.
There are a lot of good things to say about the 43 million of us with a mental illness. Unfortunately we only hear about mental illness is if someone commits a crime, if someone has an embarrassing breakdown or if someone famous dies.
The stigma against bipolar disorder and mental illnesses is fueled by fear. People who we tell that we are bipolar think about only the few who we hear about on the news.
It is time to change the conversation. It is time to work together. Many, many people and organizations are trying to break the stigma. It is time to join together and send a unified message.
That message is that we are not dangerous. We are regular people. We are family and friends, coworkers and neighbors, teachers and students. We are actors, comics, writers and creators. And even if someone is getting treated for mental illness, the mental illness has nothing to do with the circumstances.
It is true that folks with mental illness commit crimes. And too many of these crimes are sensational and horrific. But in thousands of stories about crime one of the first questions the police and media ask is, is this person mentally ill?
Many times there is conjecture, and this conjecture is reported in the news as fact. Even if a person has bipolar disorder it has nothing to do with the crime.
We need to say this over and over. Folks with a mental illness who can make a difference with the stigma and discrimination need to speak up. People in the criminal justice system need to say this. People in the media need to say this. And government needs to send this message. I see public service announcements that say that a particular television network cares. That is nice, but it is not enough.
Our message will drive the perception change. Our message will make it ok for someone to say I have a mental illness. Our message will make it ok to get treatment. Our message will make the biggest difference for the 43 million of us with a mental illness and the other 220 million people in our country who don’t.