Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Charlie Sheen & Mental Illness: Not a Joke

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Unless you've been unplugged from all media for the past week or so you've no doubt heard about actor Charlie Sheen's downward spiral. What could be an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness and substance abuse has instead become a punchline. Isn't it funny to watch him spout gibberish and make no sense?! No, not to me.

I will be the first to admit I'm sensitive about mental illness. I live with depression and I fight against it every single day. It's a battle and some days the depression wins. It's serious stuff. People take their own lives as a result of mental illness. Fortunately I've never found myself in that situation, but I'm sensitive to those who have and the loved ones of those who are now gone.

While it does seem clear that Sheen has a substance abuse problem in addition to a mental health condition, it's not terribly surprising. It is extremely common for people to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope when they are living with untreated mental illnesses. According to the United States Department of Justice in 2002 4 million Americans met the criteria for serious mental illness and substance dependence or abuse.

If it's hard to have compassion for him, consider that this man is a father. Would you want his children to see you joking about his situation like it's a game? Aren't they suffering enough as it is? I challenge you to not be the person at the water cooler or break table who laughs along when someone brings up his behavior. You don't have to be a goody two shoes or make anyone feel uncomfortable. You can just say something like, "I think it's sad." Unfortunately I think it's human nature to be morbidly fascinated by a train wreck, but we can fight against the temptation. We can't change the way this story is reported by major media outlets, but we can choose to not be part of making a joke out of this guy's pain and struggle.

If you or someone you love is struggling with these issues, please reach out for help. If suicide is a concern, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit If suicide is not currently a concern you can utilize the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Mental Health Services Locator to find help in your geographical area: Mental Health Services Locator.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.