Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thank you Kevin Love, but its time to advocate for understanding!

     Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward made national news for something other than being a well-known athlete. It was when he disclosed that he recently suffered a huge panic attack and ended up with severe anxiety which was hampering his day to day life. Soon thereafter, he sought help and came to understand that he had unresolved issues involving a family tragedy, which triggered his mental health plight.
     His revealment brought praise not only from the sports world but also high-profile celebrities and many community leaders. As a longtime mental health advocate, I join others in the field in giving him not only credit for facing this challenge, but also for being open about his personal struggle. He confronted the genesis of recovery which is two-fold; acceptance and treatment, and in that, he should be proud.
      As positive as his efforts have been to be open to his condition, it can easily become a double-edged sword. His celebrity status risks overshadowing the plight of those suffering in silence with symptoms far beyond those of anxiety and panic attacks.
     With his acknowledgment as a back-drop, it is hoped that Kevin Love, and those close to him, begin to understand that the life of those afflicted with severe mental illness is not as smooth as he has faced. In fact, for many, it is not only life-limiting but deadly and very destructive, as these conditions bring with them, a high human cost. Additionally, the stigma opens them up to ridicule, abuse, and often leaves the patient alone as social outcasts. Only those who have suffered the indignities of a being afflicted realize that the stigma of mental illness is significantly more painful than the disease itself. Countless individuals wake up to the knowledge that they will have a ‘Scarlett letter’ of being categorized after bouts of insanity. I have experienced all those indignities first hand.
     Fortunately for Kevin Love, he will not face numerous roadblocks that add to the challenge of recovery that many others do encounter. His public disclosure was met with overwhelming support from teammates, other players, and the national media. Many have spoken about his courage in facing his challenge. His powerful support system along with the resources he has available for treatment are an added benefit to help him maintain emotional stability. Again, this is not the case with a significant percentage of those who suffer in unbearable pain.
     To elaborate further, he has the good fortune to never confront suicidal ideation in the manner many individuals, myself included, struggled on a day to day basis. He will not understand the constant challenge to avoid placing a gun to one’s head and pulling the trigger. He is unlikely to be found dying along the road of a suicide attempt motivated by an unimaginable pain associated with the symptoms of an untreated bipolar disorder. He cannot possibly understand that many of these poor souls have suffered the same debilitating insanity of paranoia, mania, and depression, which brings about feelings of hopelessness. These are some far more forceful manifestations than battling anxiety.
     His family will not suffer the enormous loss that two residents of Vermillion Ohio experienced when their 16-year-old daughter, Jessica Fernandez, lost her battle with mental illness by standing in front of a moving train.  Jessica’s two wonderful parents, Dave and Nancy Fernandez, did everything humanly possible within their means to save their daughter from her tragic outcome. They had her in the emergency rooms or hospitalized over a dozen time in the year and a half leading up to this tragedy, all to no avail.
     Even fewer people can understand the daily devastation that Jeannette Halton-Tiggs constantly relives. Years ago, lacking the resources of a professional athlete, she was desperate to secure treatment for her severely mentally ill son, Timothy Halton. She worked two jobs to provide for his treatment and still ended bankrupt. Finally, after being charged with a serious crime, Timothy was placed on a mandatory three-year treatment protocol by the Cuyahoga County Court of common pleas. which became the miracle Jeannette had been seeking. He soon began to prosper as he began a job and made efforts to enter a local college. She was finally relieved that he was getting the assistance he needed, but that was to inexplicably and prematurely end.
     One year into his mandatory treatment probation, Timothy was removed from this stipulation by this same Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. This was rendered despite Jeannette pleadings he eventually kills someone once his violent symptoms reappear. Her desperate imploring was completely ignored.  About a year later, in a violent and psychotic rage, he murdered Cleveland Heights police officer Jason West.
     These stories are a more a true narration of what the families of those afflicted suffer daily than what some luminary faces while presentencing minor symptom. They never receive the accolades that Kevin Love has had bestowed on him. They writhe with burning questions such as ‘what if, or if only’. They often face constant reminders of the deadly consequences such that Jeannette Halton-Tiggs faces as she makes her daily drive to work on Jason West Memorial Parkway, in memory of the Police Officer that her son murdered.
     As much as Kevin Love deserves many of the accolades he has received, the public will mistake words and motion for progress. His future efforts can help alleviate the stigma of mental illness as a monstrous roadblock to recovery. We forget that primitive beliefs perpetrated by a lack of understanding exacerbates the stigma and leads many of its victims to hide in plain sight.
     This is not a condemnation of Kevin Love’s struggle or his disclosure, it is asking that something tangible becomes the result. What is truly needed is a serious dialogue on mental illness, to encourage the public to grasp the biological basis for the maladaptive behavior which is the only diagnostic tool available to begin recovery. Also, it is imperative that treatment on the level that wealthy individuals such as Kevin Love can afford, be made available to everyone.
     If the public commits itself to creating a mental health system that is open to all, we would witness some miraculous changes. We would see less disability associated with many afflicted, we would see a decrease in chemical dependency and even avoid another mass murderous rampage by someone who is left untreated such as the individual who murdered 17 High school students in Florida.
     My challenge to Kevin Love is simple, and it is to use his celebrity status to advocate for real change in understanding mental illness. I would hope for him to call for a dialogue of understanding and demand for better treatment from those Government leaders empowered to enact the needed enhancements. That would make him a hero to many who suffer in silence, and that would create a legacy that would be a source of pride. Time will tell if he accepts that challenge.

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