Rarely a day passes that I don’t see evidence of the stigma which still exists with mental illness. I wish we could come up with a new label for mental illness. Maybe then we could start the process of forcing insurance companies to cover the illness like they would diabetes. Categorize it under an illness or disease of the brain and treat it as so. I can’t think of a label but I’m sure someone could. Society continues to associate the word mental with: insane, crazy or mad. Because of this, those with a mental illness are rarely taken seriously and are sometimes discarded, avoided or mocked. But most of all, they are sadly, misunderstood.
My father is job hunting at the age of 60. Currently unhappy with his employer, who does not offer health insurance, he is applying for a job with a company who will provide the latter and the ability to work more from home. During a conversation yesterday, he casually mentioned the company was flying him to their headquarters for a 3 hour interview/exam with a psychologist. At that point of the conversation I abruptly hung up. Immediately I emailed him, apologized and went on about the mental illness stigma and discrimination. My father is one of many that wish I would get a “real” job and get out of the film business. Unfortunately, as I stated in the email, it’s 3 hour interviews like his which prevent me from doing so. Years ago I applied for a flight attendant position at Delta Airlines and during an intense 4 day process there were many personality tests. My memory (thanks to those lovely meds for depression) fails me here and I can’t remember exactly how far along in their process I got but I do remember leaving with the feeling, they think I’m crazy. Of course, I never heard from them again. My email to my father ended on this note: most people with a mental illness are highly productive, we may have the occasional “outburst” or “meltdown”, but not more often than the average “normal” person calls in sick to work.
When I heard the news about Owen Wilson’s suicide attempt, I was saddened. We had friends over the following week and a friend mentioned he would have never expected a suicide attempt from Owen Wilson. I asked why he found it so shocking? He didn’t have an answer. Maybe because we live in a world where most people don’t talk in detail about suicide, depression, bipolar or schizophrenia. But we definitely know which pill you can take for any of them. Knowing the entertainment business so well, I know Owen’s career will be fine. Our business is one that tolerates mental illness, that is, so many in the business that are successful have a mental illness and it would be financial disaster for the studios to shun them. There are some who embrace one’s mental illness, those that see Owen as a human being, who happens to be a funny guy and just so happens to have a mental illness. Those people are too few and far between. Which leads me to a NY Times article I read. DAPHNE MERKIN opens with this:
Here is the question lurking behind the recent news of Owen Wilson’s suicide bid: In a culture that encourages outing everything from incest to pedophilia, is depression the last stigma, the one remaining subject that dares not gossip its name? Does a disclosure about depression, especially from someone who seems to have it all, violate an unspoken code of silence — or, at the least, make us radically uncomfortable with its suggestion of a blithe public face masking a troubled inner life?
One reason I have stayed in the film business for so long is the freedom I have to be myself. I don’t have to fear not getting a job or losing a job because I am sick. I don’t have to hide my illness. I wonder what it will take for someone with a mental illness sitting behind their cubicle to feel just as free, loved and understood as the person diagnosed with cancer sitting next to them feels. Both illnesses are frightening and both are life-changing and yet we can’t talk about that “crazy” one.