Tony Shalhoub played the defective detective in the police drama “Monk” from 2002 to 2009. Monk is obsessive-compulsive and has a list of 312 prioritized fears and phobias. But, as the main character, everyone is expected to see and find his mental health challenges somewhat humorous. However, I like the show Monk for another reason, all the other mental health issues swimming around Monk that nobody understands or even recognizes due to Monk’s fears and phobias being so over the top.
Monk started a mental health conversation in America, reflecting that even those with mental health issues can be productive members of society if given a chance. For example, Captain Stottlemeyer, for the majority of the show’s run, has anger issues, and yet he is considered capable and competent as a Police Captain. Lieutenant Disher struggles with his identity as a person and his value to the organization. The supporting character’s mental health problems create the drama. Monk provides comedy and allows the supporting characters to be accepted for their mental health issues, which is essential in this discussion.
Sharona struggled with being a mother, her boss was driving her crazy, and her mental health issues stemmed from both her boss and her nursing responsibility. Sharona plays a problematic role; does she provide nursing care for Monk or provide living assistance as a counselor? Concluding that stress can be a mental health issue when taken to extremes. Natalie Teager struggled with loneliness and a desire to be her own person outside of her family. Both mental health challenges that many people struggle with silently. Other supporting characters had substance abuse issues stemming from mental health concerns and personal choices, thus Monk’s subtlety and genius.
When Sharona, his nurse, leaves the show, Natalie Teager provides a lesson on mental health, the difference between coddling and helping a person with mental health problems. Sharona, for all her care and concern, never saw Monk as capable without assistance. Natalie Teager saw Monk as competent but needing some assistance. The difference is subtle but very real. Monk’s behaviors and mental health problems lessen when Natalie Teager enters the show, and the story becomes richer.
Perception vs. Reality in Care Support
Are you weak to admit you have a mental health problem? Per society, not as much anymore. Per yourself, who knows. Perception versus reality is critical in the person with mental health concerns and in the care-providing staff surrounding that person. Now, I suffer from PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression, as mental health concerns; but, I thank God for my support (spouse) and those characters in my life that provide the drama, while my mental health provides the comedy. Not a single person who knows of my mental health struggles has ever treated me capable without assistance, and this makes all the difference in how I approach the world.
The pattern of admitting the mental health challenges, coping with those challenges, and the consequences of those challenges have been made bearable because my supporters never waiver from the foundation that I am capable but occasionally need assistance. Monk taught me that it was okay to have mental health issues, to see those issues in others, and a pattern of living and approaching others with mental health issues. The perceptions of the supporting people become a reality in the mental health challenges of the person suffering.
It is not easy supporting someone with mental health issues, and while mental health sufferers get the attention, Monk taught the world that the mental health of the family and friends is as important to the cure as well as the problem in mental health patients. Consider the two different approaches of the psychiatrists on Monk, but never forget two other principles in mental health, change is hard, and change is beneficial.
Change and Mental Health
Monk was stuck in a rut, and a change in the insurance policies spurs Monk to change. As the show develops, change is witnessed as beneficial and challenging. When Sharona left, Monk experienced quite a shock; the different care styles provided by nurses spurred complex and healthy changes in Monk. Differences in approaches by the psychiatrists produced more changes and spurred growth in Monk and the other supporting characters. Hence, as a mental health patient and as a care provider, another pattern is produced: am I looking for changes? Am I open to helping others engage in change? Do I embrace both the light and dark of change?
Adaptation is the only constant in life. We adapt to the people around us, the social environments, the emotions, and the influences of peers, employers, family, and so much more. Yet, we often try to control everything to prevent change, even though every new day brings change. Monk showed he could not handle change, mainly because he and his brother had never been taught to handle change.
Patterns in Family Rearing – Mental Health Challenges
As a kid, I was told that I would never amount to anything since I was raised in poverty and abuse. I had teachers who made this comment often enough that I got mad! Nobody was going to curtail my abilities and shoehorn my potential. Their reasoning was the research that showed those in poverty as children stay in poverty as adults. That abuse is generational, and that abuse will always influence those raised in abuse to perpetuate abuse to the next generation.
Monk showed me differently, proved that individual choices could change preset patterns, and end captivity. Sure, Jack Junior and Ambrose are typical examples of the generational nature of abuse, leading to mental health issues. But, Monk overcame, chose, and in choosing and sticking with his choices, he endured and conquered. Monk overcame even with his mental health challenges, not because of, or as an excuse, but with his mental health challenges as a companion.
While it is true how a child is reared, does dictate how that child will approach the world as an adult. Individual agency, moral choice, and the choice and consequence cycles also play fundamental roles in that person’s life. Thus, one cannot, and should not, place blame upon how one was raised for the failures in one’s life; this position negates the agency inherent in each person, and shifting the responsibility of choices is not healthy mental health practices. More lessons learned from Monk about how to face the world, even if you might not have had the best family environment as a child.
Did you notice that when Jack Junior makes his appearance, Adrian (Monk) has changed enough to know not to gratify and indulge his step-brother in his poor decisions? Despite the differences in mental health problems, Ambrose, Monk’s other brother, was also not pampered, although he was given special care. Cementing the theme that people with mental health problems are capable, have potential, and need only the opportunity to show who they are and what they can become, just like everyone else.
I am not my handicap
I have disabilities; disabilities do not have me. I am not my handicap! Monk taught me this lesson in spades. When Monk gets his badge back, he realizes he has learned this lesson as well as learning what his abilities as a disabled person are. Another subtle theme in Monk worthy of exploration. Adrian Monk was not “Obsessive-Compulsive, Mentally health challenged, Adrian Monk.” Adrian Monk was Adrian Monk who lived with obsessive compulsion, fears, and phobias. The distinction is subtle but essential to living with mental health challenges as a companion, not a ruler!
I am forever grateful for the lessons learned and still being learned from Monk! I encourage you who read this to ponder the themes herein; change is beneficial and hard, but critical; family and family life is not your life; you are not your handicap or illness. These themes and more can help open your eyes and mind to new possibilities, freeing you from your captivity of mental health challenges, but only if you choose to open your eyes and mind.
Finally, remember your support staff. Have you thanked them lately for their support, care, and kindness? If not, start there, express gratitude to and for the care received from those who live with you, work with you and desire your success. Never forget, on your bad days, your support staff is still there trying to help, and they need support too.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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