Mental Illness: How to Cope with the Coping

Numerous blogs and magazines have recently published articles commemorating the life and death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Some have gone even further by detailing the trials and tribulations of his substance abuse. I spent a lot of time reading those articles while pretending to watch the Super Bowl, but everything I have read seems to contradict what I hear around campus.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with a heroin needle still in his arm just two weeks ago, yet there appears to be greater backlash than sympathy from outsiders. I may have a limited perspective while living at Boston College, but I have heard a lot of “I don’t feel sorry for him” and “he did it to himself.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

I understand that drug use is a choice, but I have heard jokes about shooting up in his honor as if his life does not truly deserve to be honored. It seems as though the more and more we are faced with the reality that death is a result of drug addiction, the less and less we care that an actual human being died.

Around 100 people die every day in the United States from drug overdoses, yet we only seem to notice when it’s a celebrity. Whether or not we like to admit it, drug addiction is a result of a more severe mental health problem, a mental health problem that is not given nearly enough serious attention until after the damage has been done and the grave has been dug.

Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, yet there is very little that can be done once addiction has taken hold of a person. We as twenty-something BC students think most about drug addiction and mental health problems only when they have gotten out of hand. Heroin overdose occurs daily, yet we notice when a famous actor passes away. Anxiety spreads like wildfire through competitive college campuses, but we only see it when someone takes a leave of absence for treatment. Eating disorders spiral out of control every day on our own campus, yet we only take notice when we find ourselves sitting in the waiting room of counseling services.

I think that we as an entire student body need to take the time to understand drug addiction and mental health disorders a little bit better. Maybe before criticizing someone for using or disregarding a friend who “just needs a drink tonight,” we should take the time to understand why. Why does she use? Why does he need a drink? A lot of drug addictions, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders stem from more than drugs, schoolwork and food. They stem from a lifetime of depression, self-doubt and self-loathing. They happen as a result of too much pressure and too little emotional attention. They occur after years and years of masking their problems and fears and doubts with a façade of happiness. Only when you start to cling to control over one substance do you know that you’ve lost control of everything else. And only when the pain of the one thing you can control becomes far too much to bear do you realize that you have a problem and need help.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

For some people, though, it is too late. The addiction is too powerful, and the drugs are too strong. For some people there is no help. It is so easy to fall into the mindset that addicts and people with disorders are somehow weaker than you are - that their problem is so beneath you that they must be less of a person. Maybe you would never try drugs. Maybe you already have. Maybe you’re one false move away from addiction. Maybe you are an addict, but most likely you fall somewhere in between. And you, inbetweeners, need to open your eyes, your ears and your hearts to the problems and their owners that surround you. They need you. They don’t want to “do it to themselves.” They don’t want you to “not feel sorry for them.” They desperately, hopelessly need your love and support. Give it before it’s too late.

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