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Mental Illness in the News

Wednesday, 09 December 2015 00:00  by Yolanda F.


There never seems to be a shortage of information and news reports relating to mental illness and how it manifests itself. This week happens to feature two young women, one younger than the other, one of considerable fame and another who represents a more common ilk of young people misunderstood by their parents and peers.

It seems like a very short time ago that I listened to Sinead O’Connor’s first album, The Lion and the Cobra. It was 1987 and I had the cassette, which incessantly played in the tape deck of my car.

According to the Huff Post and personal posts by O’Connor on Facebook, the Dublin-based singer/activist, recently had a hysterectomy and has been struggling through an ugly custody battle with her eldest son and her ex-boyfriend over her other children, who are minors. As a cry for help, she took an overdose of drugs, and lived to tell about it. Now, she is in the hospital publicly begging her family for a visit. It’s clear to me that the circumstances of late have pushed her mental capacity for coping to the limit.

O'Connor has also spoken publicly about the stigma of mental health issues. In 2013, she told Time magazine that the media sometimes makes "a buffoonery and a mockery" of young women who may have mental illnesses. It’s easy to judge someone else’s pain, though it’s hardly fair.

In an effort to help her understand what depression means to her, Sabrina Benaim, a young poet and spoken word artist, wrote and performed a dramatic poem that leaves very little to the imagination as far as the hopelessness she has sometimes felt.

The video of the performance, which took place in Oakland, CA, was captured on and went viral. It left me in tears for all the misconceptions that may be common to O’Connor’s troubles as well.

It makes the point that depression is less of a switch that can be flipped at will, and more of a medical and/or a biological condition that has to do with your brain chemistry.

Luckily, for Sabrina’s mother, she has a child who’s not afraid to speak, yell, stutter or cry in public to make herself heard. It’s unfortunate that so many parents lose their children to suicide.

In her poem, “Explaining My Depression to My Mother (a conversation),” Sabrina refers to her depression as a shape shifter that goes from small to large, like a bear, which inspires her to “play dead until the bear leaves me alone,” she tells her mother.

Mom offers practical advice like lighting candles to light her darkness and counting sheep to cure her insomnia. Because it seems so simple to her, she believes Sabrina must be creating a problem out of nothing. Mom wonders why Sabrina can’t get out of bed. And where on earth could this anxiety have come from?

Sabrina says, “Anxiety is the cousin visiting from out of town depression felt obligated to bring to the party. Mom, I am the party. Only I am a party I don’t want to be at.”

Sometimes Sabrina thinks she might want to have fun, though not often enough. Mom believes her daughter has chosen depression over happiness. But she explains, “My happy is as hollow as a pin-pricked egg. My happy is a high fever that will break.”

The only thing she can come up with is that her daughter must be afraid of dying, to which she replies, “No, I am afraid of living.”

Still, Mom can’t fathom why she has any of these problems. She just can’t connect the dots, to which Sabrina replies, “Mom, can’t you see that neither can I!”

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