©Sheri Liegh Adams
If you are reading this, chances are you have heard of mental illness or you deal with mental illness, either you or someone you know. I, myself, have mental health issues. If you have never had to deal with mental illness then this short opinion or essay is for you. I want the general population out there to understand what it is like to be a patient of mental health – at least in Canada.
I am currently 43 years old and have been dealing with mental health issues since my early 20’s. At first, it was just flashbacks of abuse that were my problem, but over time, new mental illnesses were diagnosed and treated.
On top of mental health issues in my life, I also have physical disabilities which prevent me from working. Those are the ones I can handle and that people rarely judge you. But when it comes to mental health, as many of you likely already know, there is a stigma attached to it. Altogether, I have 35 medical conditions.
It was not long ago that people who had mental illnesses no matter how small or advanced, were institutionalized and mistreated greatly. Fortunately, for those of us who have mental health issues today, technology has taught us a few things and we are rarely mistreated.
At this point, I would like to clarify some things about mental health. What it is and what it is not. Mental health problems such as Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Manic Depressive Illness and all the other diagnosis that can be made, are not in anyway contagious. You will not catch mental illness from being in the same room with a person, making physical contact with the person or being in the room when they sneeze. Mental illness is not a contagious disease like the flu or bronchitis.
Mental illness is not a person looking for attention. Many, if not most, of the people you would speak to who have mental illnesses would rather not even have them, let alone have to deal with them on a daily basis. The last thing a person who has mental illnesses wants is too much attention. Too much attention only increases the tension in the person with the illness, contributing to more severe attacks of whatever their diagnosis.
Mental health patients are not stupid. Yes, there are rare occasions when people with mental health issues are developmentally handicapped, but by enlarge, many people who have a mental illness are brilliant people, highly talented and intellectual. I know people with Schizophrenia who paint awesome pictures that just amaze the mind when you look at them, or write amazing poems and stories. Stupid and mental health should not even be in the same sentence when speaking of mental illnesses.
Mental health patients have feelings too. To say that a person is crazy, psycho or cuckoo only makes the hurt worse. The majority of mental health patients are well controlled by medications and seeing therapists and doctors. Imagine if you had a cold or the flu and somebody told you that you were psycho or crazy because you were sick. First of all, it makes no sense, and secondly, it hurts emotionally. So watch your words when you speak of the mental health patients.
Mental health patients are violent or dangerous. Very rarely true, there is more of a chance of a “normal” person committing a crime than a mentally ill person. In fact, the person with the mental illness is more likely to be the victim of a crime rather than commit the crime.
So by now you are likely wondering just what mental health and mental illness is. Mental illnesses by far, are mainly chemical imbalances in the brain. In the same way that a person who has epilepsy has a seizure because there are too many electrical charges in the brain going off at the same time, a person with mental illness has chemical imbalances, most of which can be treated and controlled by medication.
Mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses but for one factor. Physical illnesses such as arthritis and asthma, deal with various body parts, whereas mental illnesses almost always deal with problems in the brain. The problem is that people still consider people with mental illness to be crazy, stupid or just looking for attention. Both mental and physical illnesses can be treated in most cases with medications which control the problems arising from the illness. In most cases, people can live normal daily lives, but have the odd bad day just like the rest of the human race.
Also like physical illnesses, when treated properly with therapy, medicine and support, many mental health issues can be overcome and people live complete and fulfilled lives, working, having a family and a home.
People with mental illness usually struggle the most with emotions/feelings, clear thinking and a strong inability to relate to others (mostly feeling inferior to them). The emotional struggles or problems with feelings is what comes from the chemical imbalances in the brain, in most cases. The trouble of thinking clearly comes also from the imbalance in the brain. When you are struggling with emotional issues, it is often hard to be logical. I’ve heard it said that you cannot be emotional and logical at the same time. This is very true for mental health patients. And the last thing mental health patients struggle with are relationships. Often times they are unstable, the attachment occurs very quickly and the person being attached to feels overwhelmed and then leaves the relationship because they cannot handle the intensity of it.
I know from my own experience, I have trouble with intense and unstable relationships. I want somebody to be my friend and when they do, I am always wanting to be with them which pushes them away. I know this now and I am learning to not do that, but it is not easy. And also from my own experience, I have felt the stigma of mental illness first hand – especially from family members. They often say I am just looking for attention. If I was looking for attention, I would get a loud speaker and shout it out for all to hear. Even in the hospitals and clinics, the medical staff show the signs of not understanding and without asking questions first, they make a judgment and you are labelled as being needy, wanting attention and taking up valuable time that could be better spent on people with more serious problems.
People tend to think that you can just get over mental illnesses. That is not so. It is true that some people outgrow their issues, but for the most part, if you have a mental illness, the chances are more likely that you will have it for the rest of your life.
So what can you do to help? Watch what you say to or in front of people who have a mental illness. Don’t tell them they are just looking for attention. The fact is, they have too much attention already because of the negative stigma associated with it. Offer your support, if you are able, to just listen when they need to talk. Don’t tell them to just get over it. Just as a person with Diabetes does not just get over it, so a person with a mental illness cannot just get over it as it too stems from inside the body. We do not choose to have mental illness. Read up on the various resources that are widely available now. Become an informed member of society and stand up for those who are mistreated because of their illness. If you have a friend or loved one who has a mental health issue, get some counselling yourself so you can better understand when your loved one is struggling and you can, cannot do, and should and should not do. Seek help for yourself so you have an outlet when you get overwhelmed.
Mental illnesses can affect anybody at any age at any time, but there are some very valid reasons why some people are more prone to them than others. Some of these include, but are not limited to: heredity, trauma such as rape or war, brain damage, and abuse of drugs and other illegal substances. And there are also the unexplainable; those for which doctors cannot come up with a reason as to why someone is mentally ill.
According to wikipedia.com, mental illness is defined as: a disorder of the brain that results in a disruption in a person's thinking, feeling/mood, ability to relate to others and the ability to work. Mental illness is distinct from the legal concepts of sanity and insanity.
Emotional disability, mental hygiene, behavioral health, and mental wellness are terms used to describe aspects of mental illness and mental health.
There are multiple causes of mental illness. Each disorder is likely to have its own etiology and most mental disorders are proving to be caused by differences in functional brain structure as well as neurochemistry (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and so on). Treatment options include psychiatric medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments, other supportive measures or a combination of these.
Many mental disorders now appear to be caused by physiological causes, although these physiological causes cannot yet be used for diagnosis. Diagnosis still remains a subjective, but increasingly evidence-based and scientific, art that includes a detailed and careful history and assessment of current and past symptoms. The diagnostic process is by no means straight-forward and requires the careful skills of a gifted medical detective.
Regarding the major psychiatric disorders (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD and so on) the nature versus nurture debate, for the most part, has been settled. The answer is "both" with a significant emphasis on nature. The major psychiatric disorders all show strong evidence of heritability. Using identical twins, one or both of whom had mental illness and who were reared apart (to control for environment), psychiatric researchers have shown high rates of heritability (significantly higher than for the population at large) for most mental illnesses, with bipolar disorder showing the highest inheritance and therefore strongest biological component. Most psychiatric illness are studied by both basic and clinical researchers who specialize in a disorder or group of related disorders.
Some of the more common mental illnesses include: Schizophrenia, Bi-polar disorder aka manic depressive disorder, phobias, anxiety disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder and eating disorders. You can find out more about mental illness by searching the web. A few good places to start would include the following sites:
There are many more sites – too many to list. But these are good places to start.
I hope I have helped those who are afraid of mental illness to understand that there is nothing to be afraid of. You cannot catch it the way you can a cold. The majority of mental health patients are not violent and can carry on with full-time work, family life and so on. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. The best remedy is education. And for those of you who do have a mental illness or more than one, take the initiative and help your friends, families, co-workers and so on, to better understand what it is you have. Alleviate t heir fears by giving them pamphlets or other materials or by sharing with them your experience with mental illness. Most people will accept you if they understand you and know there is nothing to fear. And part of the responsibility of removing the negative stigma associated with mental health lies in the patients themselves. They are the ones with access to various forms of media that can educate and better help others understand what it is all about.
When people learn to learn about what they do not know about instead of jumping the gun and making rash judgments, we will have a more peaceful society and a more friendly and less fearful world. If the person you know is worth it, it will only take a minute of your time to check it out and separate the myths from the facts.
My entire immediate family are now all on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Yet they still do not understand me and sometimes expect too much or criticize etc. Hopefully others will learn if they do not.
For my 3 kitties in Heaven who helped me immensely through my hard times. They now rest peacefully with the Lord. And for my kitty, Sweetie, who is with me now, who gave me 5 beautiful kittens - a gift I could not give myself. I cannot have children and she gave me the best gift I could ever have been given...to watch a live birth, to help raise the kittens and help her out and for her to trust me with her babies...who are now over a year old and happily adopted out to good homes. Sweetie was a stray who blesses me daily :)
Total votes: 3Do you or somebody you know have a mental health issuee?
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