Kathleen Copeland: Help erase stigma of mental illness - The Buffalo News

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Kathleen Copeland: Help erase stigma of mental illness

The woman was talking of demons. Someone became alarmed and called the police. She was pulled over in her minivan with her children. Apparently, she appeared to be OK, because the officer let her go. Unfortunately, she failed to mention the demons. But the police were called in because she was going on about demons. That should have been enough to get her committed for observation. Instead, she drove her car into the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to kill her children.

This story was in the news in March. It proves again what I’m fighting for: The police officer should have been legally obligated to take this woman to the hospital.

In my opinion, all of the shooting sprees that have been committed recently were perpetrated by mentally ill people, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. And there is the inevitable interview with the neighbor or co-worker who says he was concerned but didn’t know what to do, or he called the police and that’s where the system failed.

I am bipolar. Over the years, I occasionally popped up manic in the streets. In a previous My View column, I wrote that it felt like people didn’t care when they didn’t try to find out how they could help me. Someone said, “Don’t confuse ignorance with a lack of caring.” I think most people are uninformed about mental illness.

If someone collapses with a heart attack, people call an ambulance. But it’s different with mental illness. I know it’s scary to deal with a mentally ill person. It’s hard to separate people from their symptoms. I was not doing “crazy” things most of the time and had positive experiences with people – otherwise I would have been hospitalized.

Once, I was arrested for criminal mischief (graffiti). It was obvious I was manic, but I was taken to the Erie County Holding Center rather than the hospital.

I know it’s not that people don’t care. Many people care deeply. I was privy to the extremes of human kindness, as well as to disdain. I know people prayed. I’ll go out on a limb and reveal that when I was manic, it seemed like I could literally feel the prayers.

Consider the recent odyssey of actress Amanda Bynes. She was apparently manic for a while. People made fun of her on TV and on Twitter. I read that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Her attorney denied she has schizophrenia, but said nothing of the bipolar disorder. She said it was marijuana that was responsible for her erratic behavior, such as sending bizarre tweets, throwing a bong out her apartment window and setting a small fire. While I don’t doubt that she was smoking marijuana, I refuse to believe it was entirely responsible for her actions. Most people, especially celebrities, do not cop to being mentally ill. It’s not exactly good for one’s image.

Because of the shooting sprees, stricter gun-control laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill are being discussed. I feel the need for a law that requires the police to hospitalize people in trouble is an important component in the effort to stop (big and small) tragedies from occurring.

Psychiatric disorders are physical ailments – not a defect in one’s character; not something to be ridiculed or treated with derision. Please help strip the stigma off mental illness by talking about it openly and compassionately, just like you would with any other disease.

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