Mental Illness doesn’t care who you love. It will make you lash out at anybody. Sometimes the people you love the most get it the worst because you feel safer with them. That doesn’t make it hurt any less for the person getting lashed out at. People with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness often find themselves alone because the people they love are exhausted by the ongoing cycle of episodes and remove themselves. Those people are only trying to save themselves, they’re not being mean. But the pain of being a target can blind you to the pain of the person acting out.
A person may be born with a genetic predisposition to mental illness or addiction. It doesn’t just develop on its own, though. It has to be triggered by a traumatic event, like being run over by a car before you’re even old enough to remember it. Or being mocked for bladder problems that aren’t your fault or derided for showing emotions. Being physically abused or watching a sibling be physically abused. Feeling constantly unsafe and afraid. Watching a loved one suffer a terrible accident. The death of a child. The death of a spouse. Being repeatedly uprooted, and abandoned, and abandoned, and abandoned.
Mental illness can be caused or exacerbated by brain trauma, such as that caused by blows to the head, playground accidents, being thrown around. If the mental illness goes undiagnosed, the person suffering will try to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex. This self-medication can become even worse if you’re prone to addiction. The trauma is never recognized or processed. The pain is never eased or validated. Pain that is never addressed or validated causes intrusive and violent thoughts–your brain lies to you.
If a person grows up helplessly watching their father have episodes and never receiving help, can that person be expected to act when they see their own child having an episode? If a person spends their childhood trying to protect their siblings, is it surprising that they continue trying to save others the rest of their life?
If a person’s mental illness has driven away everyone they trusted, who is there to tell them their brain is lying to them?
Mental illness isn’t a moral failure. Addiction isn’t a moral failure. I’ve heard people say sneeringly that attempting suicide is just someone asking for attention. Why is that something to sneer at? If someone needs attention so badly they are willing to harm themselves to get it, don’t they deserve some attention? How can it be wrong to give someone the attention they’re begging for?
I’ve also been told suicide is a selfish act. Suicide isn’t selfish. Can you imagine being in so much pain that the only way to stop it is to end yourself? We may want to believe a person could be spiteful enough to die in order to cause others to suffer, but a healthy person’s self-preservation instinct stops them from being that spiteful. And someone who slowly drinks or drugs themselves to death is someone who is actually trying their best to survive.
People with mental illness aren’t the gun-toting boogiemen the media makes them out to be, nor are they emoting madmen with plans to rule the world, or vacant catatonics. You can’t tell someone is mentally ill just by looking at them or even by just listening to them. They are mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, precious daughters, beloved sisters, adored spouses, cherished sons, treasured brothers, all with brains that lie to them, hurting in ways that can’t be seen.