“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
Being different is not anomalous. Instead, our perception is. The stereotypical ways of defining a person’s personality and individual choices have made us blind to the truth that setbacks in life happen and sometimes without any warnings. Mental illness is one of them; it does not discriminate and can happen to anyone at any time.
In fact, the truth is mental illnesses are not different from physical health problems. Just like there are causes, effects and treatments for physical ailments, mental illness also has triggers, repercussions and approaches to treatment. With advancement in science, scientists have been successful in identifying causes and treatment for most of the mental disorders. Unfortunately, prevalent stigma, social barriers and other such factors make treatment a distant dream for many.
Prevalence of mental disorders is more common than one can think. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults (18.5 percent) in the United States is affected by mental problem every year. In spite of its high prevalence, people harbor a plethora of myths regarding mental problems. Keeping this situation in mind, both the patient and the loved ones would think twice before sharing the condition or seeking help for the problem. The countless stigma associated with the issue hold them back from taking the right step. When factors like these prevent people from utilizing the available resources, then all the effort to embrace a healthy life becomes meaningless.
To make the society understand the importance of treatment and the futility of discrimination against people with mental issues, it is important to raise awareness and instill a sense of self-respect among the patients.
Accepting mental illness is not easy:
Experts say that mental illnesses are treatable and a faster recovery is possible through timely diagnosis. However, it is easier said than done because the society still considers mental illness as a taboo. Though with time, people have moved ahead and have stopped believing mental illnesses to be devil’s possession or a witchcraft, yet misconceptions and fallacies that still linger force people to keep away from logical reasoning. These give rise to negative thought patterns and discrimination that play an important role in damaging the social image of a person. All these aspects force a patient of mental problem to suffer in secrecy and isolation and not seek proper intervention.
In addition to the doubts on self-capability and inner power leading to mental disorders, society also considers mental illnesses to be dangerous. The notions breed from certain mental disorders causing severe disruptions in mood and stability, which often force the patient to become violent. As a result, patients with mental disorders are thought to be wild and harmful and are preferably kept in closed confines.
In reality, the truth is just the opposite. Social stigma and fear of exposure often force people with mental disorders to avoid interactions and to shut themselves in their shell. Incidence of violence occurs only in few cases, that too when patients feel threatened or defenseless.
A larger section of the society also associates mentally ill patients with criminal activities. People have the notion that mentally ill patients are sure to commit crimes like murder and theft. However, such conjectures are baseless and untrue. In fact, there is a high probability that because of their poor image in the society, people suffering from mental disorders might end becoming victims of crime.
Repercussion of concealing mental illness:
Hiding mental disorders do not do any good, instead, it can bring in other complications. Thus, despite available medications and treatment, it so happens at times that people with mental issues continue to suffer and live in pain. Fortunately, majority of the mental disorders like depression and anxiety are treatable. However, one should keep in mind that timely diagnosis can make things easier.
Lack of timely diagnosis only aggravates the condition, leading to several other conditions such as an untreated depression can lead to chronic mental condition or permanent impairment. Essentially, it is a prerequisite to undergo a proper diagnosis to confirm the form, stage and severity of the mental condition.
It has also been observed that behavior of others can force patients with mental disorders to self-medicate with illicit drugs, alcohol or painkillers. Initially the step might help in subsiding the symptoms and discomfort, but they do not realize that very soon they can get dependent on the substances that would further lead to addiction. Consequently, the patient then suffers from the condition of co-existence of a mental disorder and addiction, also known as dual diagnosis. Development of addiction along with a mental disorder makes the treatment more difficult as dual diagnosis requires simultaneous treatment of both the conditions.
The most unfortunate effect of suppressing the problem and not taking help are suicidal thoughts and tendencies. According to the NAMI, more than 90 percent children who die by suicide have a mental health condition. Suicide is the leading cause of preventable deaths not only in the U.S., but across the world. Many people prefer committing suicide after failing to cope with hardships posed by mental conditions.
Easier way out:
All the sorrows and concerns can come to an end if the society broadens its horizon regarding mental illness. Although, much awareness and education have been imparted to create cognizance about the truth and medical cause behind mental disorders, individuals are required to take onus and prevent the myths from spreading to future generations. They should encourage patients to seek medical treatment at the earliest and not fear about worldly perceptions.
The efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness have to begin from an individual’s home. The care, concern and encouragement to seek treatment for mental disorder from one’s home will gradually spread to every corner of the world. Mental illness is neither a sin nor a crime, but a condition that is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. Hence, the illnesses are treatable, all it requires is timely diagnosis and proper help.