(This is Part I of OITNB and Mental Health. Part II will discuss depression, PTSD, and more)
As I covered my ears, squeezed my eyes tight shut and held my breath, I realized that I finally understand. Having experienced depression and anxiety over the years, I often wondered what made schizophrenia so different. Even in my experience advocating for mental health disorders or meeting those with mental illness, schizophrenia always eluded me. I always heard about it. Never understood it. Never met someone in the midst of a psychotic episode. Up until yesterday, I just never “got it.”
Well, it all makes sense now thanks to Orange is the New Black and the character of Lolly, played by Lori Petty. Through tears, I painfully watched Lolly’s backstory unfold as if I was watching the story of a close friend or family member. For Lolly and her schizophrenia, all anyone ever believed or lead her to believe was that she was crazy and paranoid. Not to
spoil too much, but watching her downward spiral from successful news reporter
to living in a-less-than-ideal group home to homelessness to being arrested during
a psychotic episode, every minute became more and more agonizing. Her story
played out like that of far too many individuals with schizophrenia who don’t seek
treatment or follow their treatment plans.
For individuals with mental illness, we often are our own cheerleaders. We make sure we push through whatever the challenge in order to continue living successful lives. However, what I didn’t fully realize until this episode was that for individuals with delusions, schizo-affective disorder, auditory or visual hallucinations, and schizophrenia, the world looks and feels completely different to them than it does to us. When they have a break from reality, their minds try so hard to forge through it but over time, the
struggle can intensify, practically overpowering them.
Sadly, Lolly is no different than many others with schizophrenia. I recently read that my county jail was the largest provider of mental health treatment in our region. I found this so disturbing that I was compelled to write to the local newspaper and share my thoughts on ways to combat this issue. The worst part is, many county jails all across America, have very similar stats. A lot of this has to do with cities not training their officers
in Mental Health First Aid or how to respond during a Mental Health Crisis. Many
of those with living with mental illness in our prison system are guilty of misdemeanor
crimes such as resisting arrest, homeless trespassing due to the inability to
acquire or maintain a job, or “disorderly conduct,” which is simply reacting to
the voices in their head.
I have never felt so heartbroken over an episode of show before, but I must praise the writers, actors, and creative team who handled what could have been a very cliché episode, so beautifully. It was a real as can be while keeping its sense of humor, compassion, fear, and hope. I’m so proud of this show for spotlighting mental illness with true humanity for the all the world to see.