NOTE FROM PAM: Today brought news to our inbox that Autumn and I wanted to share with Blend readers in what we feel is an appropriate context. We learned that Dan Choi, who sacrificed his privacy to take on a high-profile role as one of the public faces of the impact of the discriminatory policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, has been hospitalized and is in the hands of professional mental health practitioners at a Veterans Administration facility. Dan explained in his email:
"I did not initially want to publicize this but I now realize it is critical for our community to know several things: veterans gay or straight carry human burdens, Activists share similar burdens, no activist should be portrayed as super human, and the failures of government and national lobbying carry consequences far beyond the careers and reputations of corporate leaders, elected officials, High powered lobbyists, or political elites. They ruin lives. My breakdown was a result of a cumulative array of stressors but there is no doubt that the composite betrayals felt on Thursday, by elected leaders and gay organizations as well as many who have exploited my name for their marketing purposes have added to the result. I am certain my experience is not an isolated incident within the gay veteran community.
At the same time, those who have been closest to me know that I truly appreciate their gracious help and mentorship. I am indebted to their hospitality and leadership.
If you could share the info and sentiment I'd be most grateful."
So yes, this is newsworthy, and Dan clearly wanted to share what he could have left private, or had to deal with had information about this leaked out. But this is another gift to the community -- to open up a multi-faceted discussion: 1) the mental health toll taken by gay and lesbian service members; 2) the stressors that arise when also thrown into the public eye as a matter of fate or circumstance, not as a job.
As a society we tend to bury mental health issues, always trying to pretend that everyone can just "suck it up" and bear all of life's maelstrom, and that there is inherent weakness in needing mental health services. Far from it, there are many people in desperate need of professional help in this vein who don't seek assistance because of the stigma still attached to mental health issues. A snippet of what I said in my response to Dan:
"...Now you have a chance to actually rest, get off of the hamster wheel and take care of yourself. Sometimes this is what it takes for those who find it hard to ratchet down. Part of gaining perspective is to take care of your mental health as Dan Choi the person, the human being. "Activist" is an acquired label, worn by you in a very public manner - it's a difficult burden.
This is private time to both heal and build up the skills you need to handle the anxiety that can be crippling and painful. That's a process, one that takes time, practice...I trust that you will cast the outside world out of your mind for a while. It will obviously be there when you're ready to engage, and the world will be just as screwed up as it ever was.
What matters is that you gain back your strength. Your health - mental, physical, spiritual - is more important than any of this."
And the closet is no place for mental illness, there is no need for euphemisms that skirt the issue of addressing a clinical matter. Doing so only makes it that much harder for those who suffer in silence from getting the help they need, and in the military, the stigma remains strong.