All I have to say to the Gray Lady is: Thank you. You've come a long way, baby, on mental-health coverage. Two days after my June 21 piece, in which I discussed the New York Times' front-page story on the murder of a mental-health counselor by a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, the paper of record published another front-page story, the first in a series, as it turns out, on people who have tamed their severe mental illness.
The first installment of the series, titled "Lives Restored," which appeared in the June 23 issue of the Times, profiled Dr. Marsha Linehan, who, like me, has overcome a onetime diagnosis of schizophrenia (as well as a possible diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, the diagnosis that she believes most accurately reflects her state of mind when she was young). The piece, written by Benedict Carey, makes the excellent point that, until now, too many people, who grapple with severe mental illness, have remained anonymous because "they are too busy juggling responsibilities, paying the bills, studying, raising families - all while weathering gusts of dark emotions or delusions that would quickly overwhelm almost anyone else."
Many people with mental illness have also of course remained anonymous because of stigma. For years, I never publicly discussed my illness, which included psychotic breaks in 1997 and 1999, or even the fact that I was in therapy. But I began writing about my psychosis in 2005, in an op-ed in the L.A. Times. Since then, I have continued to write about my struggles, which I have learned how to manage. That is not say that I don't sometimes battle "dark emotions or delusions."
Two years ago, I wrote about a traumatic experience I had in an army boot camp, when I feared that I would be beaten up by some of the other participants. To be fair to the members of that boot camp, I was in the process of switching from perphenazine to Abilify, a process I had begun only a few months before. That alone may have contributed to my psychosis, as did insomnia, jet lag and the very real animosity of a few thugs in my program.
Not long after that experience, I started to think that I had caused a horrible scandal when I was in college, a delusion I had had years before. Thankfully, I was nurtured by my wife, my psychiatrist and a few close friends. I kept taking my new anti-psychotic medication, Abilify, giving it a chance to work. And I had the resourcefulness to return to my writing.
While Carey notes that there is "no recipe" for recovery, he does cite these factors in his article, hailing the benefits of medication, therapy, good luck and inner strength.
The profile of Dr. Linehan, who originated dialectical behavior therapy and has treated severely suicidal patients for years, demonstrates that people can recover from diagnoses such as schizophrenia and lead "productive lives," as I argued in my last piece.
Elyn Saks, a professor at USC Law School, who has written openly about her own battles with schizophrenia, got it exactly right when Carey quoted her as saying, "There's a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it."
Saks has put her own face on it with her memoir, "The Center Cannot Hold."
I would like to think that maybe all of these articles I have written since 2005 have also contributed to the changing nature of the Times coverage of mental illness. Whether they have or have not, I am delighted that the Gray Lady has embarked on this new series.
At a time when many people are writing books and articles, such as a two-part opus in the New York Review of Books, that denigrate the use of medication and the profession of psychiatry, the new series in the Times will help to reduce stigma and give us all hope for a better life.
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