Matthew Schniper posted "Anything but Normal" yesterday on our visit to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House to see Next to Normal. He touched on the acting and set (and dinner at LOLA); I wanted to add a bit about the theme of mental illness.
Next to Normal didn't receive a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for nothing. Much like the mid-’90s Pulitzer-winning Rent, which brought conversation about AIDS to a wide audience (and shares the same director), Next to Normal tackles a topic still too often ignored. And it tackles it with a mix of seriousness and humor that makes it approachable. (Although I do recommend that you stuff your pockets with Kleenex.)
As mom Diana, Alice Ripley, who reprises her original role from Broadway, fully portrays a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Viewers ride her highs and lows, as well as those of her family members.
As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I felt like the writers really hit the mark with how Diana constantly questions herself and her illness and what to do about it. One line she sings early on while heavily medicated — "Everything's perfect. Nothing's real." — touches on an issue many who take or consider taking meds, have to juggle: Who am I, and who am I when I'm on meds?
The play's intense; and it was obvious that the cast takes its roles seriously. At the curtain call, all six gave exhausted half-smiles. I can't imagine what it must be like to fully engage these characters night after night, but I am grateful that these actors do. They're helping further a conversation that needs to take place at dinner tables, around water coolers, and in schools and churches.
According to the National Association on Mental Illness:
• One in four adults — approximately 57.7 million Americans — experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder.
• Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults, approximately 2.6 percent of the adult population per year.
• Major depressive disorder affects 6.7 percent of adults, or about 14.8 million American adults. According to the 2004 World Health Report, this is the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada in ages between 15-44.
• Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder and phobias, affect about 18.7 percent of adults, an estimated 40 million individuals. Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depression or addiction disorders.
• Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
• In the United States, the annual economic, indirect cost of mental illness is estimated to be $79 billion. Most of that amount — approximately $63 billion — reflects the loss of productivity as a result of illnesses.
• Suicide is the eleventh-leading cause of death in the United States and the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a great stigma with it. But as NAMI says, "Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through 'will power' and are not related to a person's character or intelligence."
If you or someone you know struggle to face the ordinary demands of daily life, know there is help‚ and that it is OK to seek assistance. Locally, resources are available through individual therapists as well as the following organizations:
NAMI-Colorado Springs: 473-8477
AspenPointe (Formerly Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group): 572-6100
You can also contact the Suicide Prevention Partnership of the Pikes Peak Region's hotline: 596-5433.