I’ve been researching the history of how society treats mental illness. Of course, once upon a time, serious mental illness was treated as akin to demonic possession, and as someone who battles the demons in my mind, there is a part of me that gets that viewpoint, although what came next was often far more disturbing.
However, what I want to focus on is the asylums of the late 1800s and early 1900s. They have a bad reputation, and understandably so given the horrors that happened there. Indeed, it is no wonder that it is a popular setting for hauntings and horror films alike. Yet these places started with hope, the hope of recovery. They were often located on the outskirts of a city due to the belief that removing individuals with mental illnesses from the daily bustle of city life was therapeutic. In this sense, they were almost on to something I think. For some people, the daily rat race is a contributing factor to their mental illness, and they need to be removed. Unfortunately, the fact that these places were on the outskirts also meant the problem of mental illness was all too often out of sight and out of mind.
And since these places were out of sight and out of mine, there was no advocacy and no societal support for true reform. Instead, darkness once again filled the hallways of these places that were once meant to be places of hope.
Do they get points for recognizing that removing people from a society that didn’t work for them might be therapeutic? Do those that came before get points for recognizing that it can feel like mental illness is a battle with demons? No, because both factors, while possibly starting them out on the right track, ultimately led them down horrific paths instead.
And how will the future look at how we handle mental illness? Yes, we recognize it as an illness and treat it with medical solutions, not torture. Yet for too many, it is still out of sight and out of mind. I’ve been studying history to understand how to carry on my role of trying to end the stigma. And although it is admittedly full of darkness, I see glimmers of hope in the darkness. I see hope in the fact that ultimately light replaced the darkness. Our society has slowly but steadily moved towards a healthier view of mental illness and I believe this slow progress will continue. I believe that in our lifetime we will see mental illness treated with compassion, and no longer will people have to feel ashamed.
I see hope in those that tell their stories. I see hope in the support so many people show to those who choose to be open about their battles.
And when the darkness comes I fight like hell to hold onto that hope as I wait for the light that I know will come.
And if you are struggling, know that you aren’t alone, nor do you have anything to be ashamed of. The light will come, starting perhaps as a glimmer in the darkness, but ultimately growing. It may not be as fast as you’d like, but in the end, it always comes.