Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mental health problems come out of the shadows

Are you crazy? It's a question asked a thousand times a day in workplaces throughout the land after some individual does something out of the norm.
It's usually followed by, "Oh, it's just Crazy Bob, or Bill, or Nancy, trying to show off." However, it might be one of the signs of the onset of a major mental problem.
And it has come more and more to the forefront as I discovered after once again reading a 1992 hardcover book, A Brilliant Madness by Patty Duke with Gloria Hochman. It, of course, has a subtitle of Living With Manic Depressive Illness.
Before A Brilliant Madness, the outstanding actress had written the revealing Call Me Anna and in the followup with medical reporter Hochman she went further into the destructive illness.
Duke's symptoms started in her late teens and she was not correctly diagnosed until the age of 35 "before gaining a semblance of control of her life."
Also quoting from the inside book cover, Patty recounts with painful honesty her temper tantrums, crying jags, hospital stays, suicide attempts, panic attacks, spending sprees, crushing depressions, and plunges into near bankruptcy.
Duke, who had been sensational as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, also revealed how the disease helped to destroy two marriages and deeply hurt her children, according to the book jacket.
In Wednesday's column, I mentioned another who has suffered through such agonies and that happens to a former Toronto Sun colleague and friend, Sandy Naiman.
One of the most insightful articles on the problems surrounding mental illness are detailed in a Globe and Mail article she penned in February 2007.
After stating in no uncertain terms that American astronaut Lisa Nowak deserved better treatment after being thrown to the "wolves," so to speak, when she was placed in handcuffs for uncharacteristic behaviour, Naiman continued with her own personal tribulations.
When she was only 12 years old, a doctor diagnosed Naiman with schizophrenia. In the ensuing years she would have 20 hospitalizations and five different diagnoses.
In her Globe article, she also admitted, in detail, to "humiliating, demoralizing things, in public. Things, I wish I could undo. Or forget."
Later, in the article, Naiman said she'd never been arrested or handcuffed, "but I spent 24 hours shackled to a hospital bed, in wrist and ankle restraints, needing a bedpan instead of a diaper."
In going back to her profile it has to be noted that it took doctors a dozen years before they deemed she was a manic depressive (bipolar disorder) and not schizophrenic and Lithium Carbonate was ordered.
It didn't work as Naiman had to endure 11 serious manic episodes and hospitalizations in the ensuing years.
However, there was hope and at the age of 40, Naiman was prescribed another drug, an anticonvulant, Tegretol, which she started to take in 1988. Fortunately, she has not had another major manic episode since.
Today, this brilliant writer, speaker and mental health advocate is married to screenwriter Martin Lager and now offers advice to employers throughout Canada.
"Corporate courage to address mental illnesses is desperately needed, and in short supply," Naiman was quoted on the Mental Health Works website. "Corporations cannot afford to have sick employees and mental illnesses and addictions are the leading causes of absenteeism and lost productivity in today's workplaces. If companies can fix computers and machines, they must ensure that the minds of their employees running those computers and machines are also treated well and safeguarded ..."
Disability management consultant Dr. Garry A. Corbett of Winnipeg noted there has been a dramatic shift in costs between occupational injuries and non-occupational (including psychological) problems. "It used to be a 50-50 split 10 years ago, however, today for every $10. spent, $3 is spent on occupational injuries while $7 are needed for non-occupational problems, including psychological.
"The most common problem would appear to be depression in the workplace.
Meanwhile, Bill Wilkerson, co-founder/CEO, Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, has been quoted as saying, "Upwards of 56 million people in Canada and the U.S. -- and six million in Canada specifically -- suffer mental health problems at any hour on any clock in any time zone."
However, there is hope and understanding for a disease, which for much too long has wallowed in the shadows.


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