We need to have conversations about mental illness

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“There is a lot of talk recently about guns and mental illness. I don’t know much about guns.., but I know…about mental illness.”

So begins a 2/19/18 Facebook post by Randy Seaver, posted after a shooter killed high school students in Florida. Randy’s first Facebook about mental illness last year was autobiographical. So is his 2/19 post:

Randy writes, “I have been coping with mental illness since I was 12 years old. A lot of people need mental health treatment, but they are reluctant to seek out services because of the way society judges and ridicules those in treatment.”

I’ve known Randy about 20 years. Today, he owns Randy Seaver Consulting, a Maine-based public relations business.

In all the years I’ve known Randy, he never said a word to me about his mental illness. Neither did anyone else among our friends and acquaintances. Randy says he’s “really lucky.” Once a 12-year-old kid from a “very abusive home,” wandering his school halls, afraid to attend classes where “I was sure somebody was going to get me,” Randy today is “middle class,” owns a home, and has “really good health insurance.”

Randy’s recent post was not per se a statement on the Florida shooting, which coincided with Randy’s just getting out of Spring Harbor hospital. On social media, Randy saw “people talking about mental illness in a way that they would not speak about any other kind of illness.”

He said, “I want to advocate for mental health. When I publish something like that, so many people…say, ‘Thank you.’ But it’s not why I’m writing,” Randy continued. “I’m writing because it’s swelling up inside of me and I just kind of need to get it out. Once you publicly talk about mental illness, you can’t put on a brake and go in reverse. You have to keep going forward,” he said.

How does Randy, in conversations, describe the Florida shooter?

“That’s kind of a tough question,” Seaver said. “The kid was obviously mentally ill, and he made a real evil choice. I can totally understand why people are upset with him. I hope and pray that he doesn’t become the poster boy for mental illness, because he certainly wasn’t.”

The two words, “mental illness” cover broad territory.

Randy agrees, asking, “How many forms of cancer do we have? The list goes on, but no two cancers are alike. When you say, ‘I’ve got cancer,’ usually the next question is, “What kind?” When you say, ‘I’ve got a mental illness, “people say, ‘Oh, that’s nice. Time to move along!’”

Bipolar depression, schizophrenia, severe depression, heightened anxiety — Randy “encourages” conversations about mental illnesses. But cautions, “You can’t decrease mental illness by adding to stigma. We have to give people an opportunity to maintain their self esteem and not to be afraid to seek out treatment.”

A subject “near and dear to my heart,” Randy wants to “continue to talk publicly about [mental illness].” He thinks we’ve made progress since he was age 12 (1976), but “we have a long way to go,” and need to “help people with a mental illness reach out and ask for help.”

We need to ask, “What are the treatment options? Even someone with good insurance, plenty of money, is going to be reluctant to seek mental health treatment simply because of the stigma, and the fear of losing work, [and] whatever they’ve built up in their lives,” said Randy Seaver, adding, “I hope I touch people’s lives in a meaningful way. And I hope that I give them pause before they just generically disparage someone with mental illness.”

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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