Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Meditations in Green, May 4-10, 2008

Green is the color of insanity. Not sure why, but that’s what it said in the handout distributed today at the Children's Mental Health Awareness Week luncheon in Cheyenne.

In the 1800s, the color green was used to brand people who were labeled "insane." The children’s mental health community decided to continue using the color green, but with a different focus. Green signifies new life, new growth and new beginnings.

We wore green ribbons. Green balloons flanked the entrance to the luncheon. Green flowers graced the tables. Most of us – or our children – have struggled with mental illness. I never related green to my own depression – or vice versa. My son had teen bouts with drugs and alcohol and spent a year in a treatment center. My teen daughter battles depression and has also done time in a treatment center. My wife Chris and I used to wonder "why us?" – until we met all kinds of people with the same problems. Mental health problems are as ubiquitous as health problems. Families are just as likely to experience depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia as they are diabetes and cancer. Thing is, you can talk about your skin cancer, but it’s hard to openly discuss how hard it is living inside your own skin.

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal spoke at the luncheon. Life is difficult and complicated in the 21st century, he said, even in the least populous state in the union. Growing up outside post-war Thermopolis was idyllic, even with seven siblings and the limited budget of a farm family. People took care of one another. Ministers and teachers and the local sheriff could step into bad situations and make a difference. But there was at least one bad thing about the good old days -- people didn't discuss their deranged Uncle Bill or the kid in sixth grade who rocked back and forth all day. These days, we talk about the mentally ill amongst us, and we take strides to assist them. We have the dragon on the run, he said, but we can't beat the dragon until we all start working together. That was a message for all the nonprofits and government entities in the room. Share your resources and pull in the same direction. This is one of our toughest tasks. Too often we guard our territory at the expense of those who need help.

I work in the arts world, but volunteer as a board member for UPLIFT of Wyoming (sponsor of the luncheon) and serve on the Governor's Mental Health Council. Arts organizations fall prey to the same territoriality. None of us are the better for it.

So, here's some background on this huge issue:

The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health again declares the first full week in May, May 4-10, 2008 as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The National Federation would like to invite all of its local chapters and statewide organizations to use this week to promote awareness about children’s mental health. Join the national office in sending the following messages:

Mental Health is essential to overall health and well being; serious emotional and mental health disorders in children and youth are real and treatable; children and youth with mental health challenges and their families deserve access to services and supports that are family driven, youth guided and culturally appropriate; stigma associated with mental illness should no longer exist.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For my header, I borrowed the title of Stephen Wright's excellent 1983 novel, "Meditations in Green," once out of print but recently reissued by Vintage Contemporaries. It has a lot to say about sanity and insanity as it relates to drug abuse, the Vietnam War, and over-the-top human behavior. One of my favorite authors, Don DeLillo, described the book this way: "Precisely that brutal hallucination we desperately wanted to end."

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