Mental Illness and Awakening the Bodhisattva…

I originally wrote this as a Facebook post. More of a rant – a personal reaction. Outrage and sadness driving me.

I was only going to “say it once”, but after receiving so much positive feedback and encouragement from my friends, I realized this may be worth repeating…



I was deeply saddened to hear of Robin Williams’ passing yesterday. A man who, for many of us, felt like a favorite uncle growing up. Someone who encouraged us to be our most authentic selves – always weird and wonderful. Somehow, we think our childhood heroes are indestructible. That they’ll live forever. Alas, they’re just as human and frail as the rest of us.

Most of the world is mourning and celebrating the life of the late Robin Williams today. But I’ve also read some comments which deeply disturbed me.

Speculation on his mental state at the time of his death, and his history of depression and drug use – said with contempt and skepticism – angered me. I am dismayed and deeply disappointed by some of the things I’ve read. While mostly positive in nature, I’ve seen some very unkind, even cruel comments, some questioning his illness and his acts.

Robin had a history of illicit drug use. It was known. Some would say he brought his pain onto himself. I can’t conscience that. Sometimes drugs can cause permanent neurological damage, yes, but more often, they are a symptom, a way of self-medicating and masking the pain. Some say he committed a selfish act.

Regardless of the circumstances, if a man in pain took his life, mourn him, honor his good deeds and good works, and have compassion for him and his family. It isn’t for us to judge.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation


Depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are physiological disorders. They can cause behavioral, or emotional symptoms, yes, but one can not simply be talked out of having the symptoms, or feelings, associated with these very real physical illnesses.

Just because you cannot see the physical landscape of a person’s brain, and the neurological circuitry that is damaged, with the naked eye, does not make it any less real. You can see someone has a broken arm. You can’t see someone has a broken brain (for lack of a better way of putting it).

What causes mental illness? Most often a genetic predisposition (or physical vulnerability, if you will) often triggered later in life (teens, 20’s, or later) by physical and emotional trauma. It is not a “choice.” In some circumstances, direct injury to the brain, as seen with head trauma from a motor vehicle accident, is the cause.

While talk therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy, can be helpful, it is best in combination with a regimen of medication, to help stabilize the patient’s brain chemistry, and can offer the most effective course of treatment.

Therefore, think carefully before judging someone struggling with a mental illness.


How do I know so much about mental illness? I’ve done the research.

Why? I’ve been a caregiver to my mentally ill mother since I was 15 years old. She didn’t choose it. I didn’t choose to be born into a family with a person afflicted. But there it is. It is a daily struggle. For both the person with the illness and those closest to them. That is if most people haven’t abandoned them, as I’ve experienced all too often is the case.

How do you reason, or know to get help, when you don’t know how sick you truly are? If the very neural pathways and structures of the brain that involve reasoning, logic and self awareness or self reflection are compromised? Poor insight, as stated in Xavier Amador’s book, I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone With Mental Illness Accept Help, is quite common among those identified with psychiatric disorders.

I’m not ashamed of my situation. I used to be. I never told anyone about my mother growing up. It was too embarrassing and painful. I feared I would be judged poorly, or mistreated and rejected (sadly, I wasn’t always wrong). I don’t hide it anymore. It’s part of who I am. I won’t be ashamed, and for my part, I won’t propagate the stigma.

“In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is an enlightened (bodhi) being (sattva). Traditionally, a bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by great compassion…”


Mental illness is real. It is a condition. An illness. Like cancer. Or heart disease. It can be treated and it needs to be fully understood. Healthcare and government agencies need to catch up and deal with it.

As a community, we need to break the stigma and deal with it.

It’s time people educated themselves and learned to have some compassion. Think before you speak. The anonymous nature of the internet gives people a false sense of security to spout off without censoring themselves; things they’d never say in public during a face to face confrontation.

Learn from this. 

Those who live in glass houses should never throw stones. If you’ve ever experienced that abyss, then turn to someone in pain and HELP them — don’t judge or berate them. Don’t tell them to simply “snap out of it.”

Lastly, thank you for taking the time to read this and letting me share something so personal in the wake of something so tragic.

Brightest Blessings,



I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment by Xavier Amador

Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual by E. Fuller Torrey

NAMI – National Alliance for the Mentally Ill 

Suicide is NOT a Selfish Act  by Kevin Caruso