Food for Thought

As someone who recently wrote a feature article about mental illness, I’ve found myself saddened by the public response to Charlie Sheen.

He’s not been officially diagnosed with anything (to my knowledge), but mental health experts who have watched his media bender speculate that he has bipolar disorder. The erratic behavior, outrageous musings, and grandiose statements all point to the likely conclusion that Sheen is in the grip of a manic episode.

And yet members of the national media offer him interview after interview, providing a continuous stage for his rants because the public cannot seem to get enough. Of course, I don’t approve of or condone Sheen’s behavior, and I worry most about how this all might impact his children. But to exploit someone in this way— someone who may be coming unhinged due to a potential mental disorder—is beyond the pale.

A friend of mine who is close to this issue points out that we would never make fun of someone with cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. But the public does not hesitate to mock a person with a possible mental illness. Crazy, cuckoo, deluded, wacko. These words and more have been used to describe Charlie Sheen, the same words that have been used to describe mental suffering throughout time.

Just last week and here in Iowa City, a 37-year-old mother of two threw herself off the Herbert Hoover Bridge. She landed atop a semi-truck traveling along I-80 and died. It later became known that this woman suffered from severe depression. Comments posted to the online news story proved merciless in their judgment. While it is impossible to understand the woman’s actions, her hopeless state of mind at the time of this tragic decision is something no one can ever fully comprehend.

Struggles with mental illness are all around. Chances are you know someone who is in the midst of a battle of a lifetime. In our April issue of Iowa Alumni Magazine, heading to press as I write this, we cast light on this issue, particularly as it pertains to students on college campuses like the University of Iowa. We hope it is of some public service and brings awareness to a subject still in need of better compassion and understanding.

Kathryn Howe
Associate Editor

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  1. jane
    Posted March 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    It’s important to realize that those who suffer mental disorders often start drinking or doing drugs to self-medicate; but also that someone who doesn’t have a mental disorder can develop one thanks to drugs or alcohol.

  2. Stacy
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting research article that sheds new light on the debilitating illness. There is such a genetic component and those who suffer don’t ask for it anymore than someone with diabetes. I really hope that within my lifetime there will be greater understanding and compassion for people with the disorder. The brain, just like any other part of the body can have something within that causes suffering.

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