Want to have some fun?

You’re sitting down for coffee with friends, or indulging in happy hour. And then say that you’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Watch what happens.

There’s a very real chance people will get up and move away from you, and I wouldn’t expect to be invited back for coffee or beer anytime soon. Why does that happen? As a society, we have an idea of what mental illness is. That concept is the furthest thing from the truth.

The reason for this is that most mentally ill people are valued and productive members of our society. They have jobs, they pay their taxes. They are good fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and partners. They are excellent co-workers and friends. They sit next to you in the restaurant, at work, on the bus, in church, and you pass dozens in the store or on the street. God knows that we’ve elected a few to political office, including the highest office of our land.

In short, they’re like everyone else. The problem is our perception of them. Most mentally ill people are perceived as violent and dangerous, and while some are, the statistics of violent crimes carried out by mentally ill people are surprisingly low. Of all violent crimes (shootings, stabbings, rape, etc.), less than 4% are committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness. That doesn’t speak well for the so called “normal” members of the world.

But every once in while, they go through a rough patch. The Mental Health First Aid course was not designed to turn anyone into a PhD in psychology, but to recognize a potential problem, and how to intervene. You learn, among other things:

  • Risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems.
  • Information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and addiction disorders.
  • A 5-step action plan to help someone developing a mental health problem or in crisis.
  • Where to turn for help — professional, peer, and self-help resources.

I would highly recommend a Mental Health First Aid course for anyone to take. You can find information at https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/

I’ve been doing some work on the next novel, and what I learned I found myself applying to a situation in it. Will is sitting with a disturbed man. He’s staying calm and not ignoring his delusions (trying to logicize them away–you never will and you’ll just upset the person). Will is making sure the man isn’t suicidal or a danger to others. He listens and encourages. He keeps reminding the man of the times they’ve had encounters in the past, he always helped, and that he’s willing to help him again. Lastly,

Will makes him part of the solution and gets him to agree to go with him to get help.

All in all, I wish I’d had this training way back when. One or two incidents might have worked out differently.