[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZtTd3vmjws

This is another serious blog topic today at After Hours, about the Charlie Sheen train wreck.  It’s what everyone’s talking about — tiger blood, “bi-winning,” his bitchin’ life, the drug that is Charlie Sheen.  He’s the butt of every joke — there’s the Live the Sheen Dream site, and the quiz in which you match quotes with Glenn Beck, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, or Charlie Sheen. He set the Guinness World Record for being the fastest to get a million followers on Twitter (just a bit over 24 hours).

But here’s the thing: mental illness isn’t funny.  If anyone else were to go spouting off about having tiger blood and being a warlock, and saying things like, “There’s a new sheriff in town, and he has an army of assassins,” they would be institutionalized — for their own good.  They would be hospitalized, evaluated, and treated for mental illness.  He would be the person that we would go to the other side of the sidewalk to avoid, walking past quickly with our eyes on the ground.  He would be the person in a store to whom we would give a false but polite smile while we edge away to alert the security.

Instead, we’re giving him a microphone and a camera and putting him in front of a global audience.

We don’t understand mental illness because we don’t talk about it.  It’s taboo and scary and weird, and we’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist.  Well, it does, and all you have to do is turn on Charlie’s latest interview to see what it looks like.  After years of intense drug use, it’s not surprising that he’d lose control of reality.  And yeah, what he’s saying is sort of funny and ridiculous, but it’s gone too far and isn’t funny anymore.  We are the people that Craig Ferguson talks about in the video above, paying our pennies to point and laugh at the lunatics.

I wish more people were concerned, and stopped telling jokes.  The ramblings of a mad man are not entertainment any more than it’s funny to laugh at a person missing a limb, or with scars, or a stutter.  Mental illness is an illness, not a weakness or a punchline.  If this ongoing circus teaches us anything, it’s not that Charlie Sheen is a bitchin’ winner — it’s that we still stigmatize and misunderstand mental illness.