On Couples and Mental Illness: A Tribute to the Powells

One of the greatest contributions of General Colin Powell was to show how couples can deal with clinical depression together.  It was the way he said it — straightforward, unsecretive, unapologetic. “My wife has depression. She’s had it for many, many years and we have told many people about it. It is not a family secret. It can be managed, and understanding, knowledge, and treatment are essential.”

With these words, he became a kind of unintentional medical ambassador for the mental health community, which has been trying to take the mystery and stigma out of psychiatric disorders and change public attitudes toward getting help for decades. His stance was trailblazing in its day. In contrast, as Nancy Reagan told the popular magazine “Family Circle” in a 1981 interview: “I feel that getting psychiatric treatment means that you yourself are not really trying to get hold of yourself. It’s sloughing off your own responsibilities.”

There is no doubt that mental illness of a partner or child is very difficult for a family. Without being overly sentimental, minimization, or exaggeration, Colin and Alma Powell showed unabashed solidarity in their personal day to day, living with mental illness.
RIP.

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