Mental Illness in this Millennium – a layman trying to work it out.
It was an ordinary morning in June 2021 that I woke remembering a snippet of a dream.A group of young adults sitting around having a discussion. One young lady placing her hand over her chest expressed with sadness that she was in pain and believed she must be suffering depression. Having been in close contact with several people who suffered from depression I jumped in questioning why she felt this. When I awoke that’s all I remember about the dream but it started a thought process which I had touched on many times over the past 20 odd years.
How does one who has not experienced mental health issues possibly understand what mental illness is? The umbrella of mental illness is very large. It encompasses such a complex range of behaviours. There is a lot of information and misinformation available. There are doctors, psychologist, psychiatrist, councillors, educators all with tools to help but not always helpful. There are books, papers, lectures and blogs which can be helpful but can also be harmful.
Mental illness has been highlighted in recent years with the hope of bringing awareness and acceptance for those who are suffering. A much needed fight to remove the stigma around being mentally ill. The assumption that someone with mental illness should be locked away. The thoughts that mental illness rendered people as NOT normal, strange, shameful or scary is something to be obliterated completely.
Awareness and education is a great thing and should always be encouraged. The need for money to be allocated for intensive research should be supported. The need to bring back institutions to help those in dangerous or destructive or self abusive situations is absolutely essential.Mental illness is too often silent and must be given a voice.
Having said this I believe awareness has a downside. It can bring false assumptions, self diagnosis, self medication. Awareness can give people information to abuse and to misuse. It can offer people a false sense of entitlement. In the hands of the inexperienced it can result in the wrong diagnosis and consequently the wrong and in fact detrimental treatment.
The dream I mentioned earlier is the catalyst for this following statement, “What I have observed more and more is a behaviour which concerns me. It is the harmful reaction of normalising the illness to the point of minimisation of the illness”
Real mental illness should never be considered as normal. Accepted, yes but not ignored or passed off as a phase. Untreated it is destructive, debilitating, and painful, it silently eats away and constantly manifests itself. It can destroy both the person who is suffering and the family and friends it encounters. It not only effects behaviour but can also result in many complicated medical conditions.
Mental illness cannot easily be identified by a set of definitive criteria. As I said previously the field is enormous and the unknown is huge.
I continue to write without any formal degrees. I do not claim any expertise in the area of mental illness. I have no training in this area. These are my thoughts only based on my experience with mental illness. My personal experience was not of my own mental illness but of family members and what I heard and felt over a 25 year span.My experience probably differs from others so what worked or did not work for me and my loved ones may have the reverse effect on other situations. Therefore I will not be presumptuous and give advice to anyone else during these blogs. What I and others should do is to encourage everyone to seek professional help at all times. And at first you do not get answers please try again, there is someone who will be the person for you.
What I believe we can do as ordinary untrained people is discuss mental illness as you would cancer, heart conditions, dementia or alzheimers, cancer, or any other medical condition. Think about someone you know who has suffered a heart attack. If you do not have a heart condition you would not pretend to know what they are going through. You would possibly ask questions, what happened and then let them give you detailed description. You would listen without judgement or input, you would express concern and tell them to call if there is something you can do. We certainly do not minimise, heart attacks, we encourage people to seek the opinion of a doctor, to follow up on any signs or warnings. We tell them it is serious and not to dismiss it. We offer to make appointments for them, to drive them, we offer our help. Basically we confirm to them they are worthy of help.Do we react the same if someone indicates they have BiPolar, Depression, Anxiety, or any of the many other conditions referred to as mental illness. Most likely we do not. We often retreat in fear. People who suffer from Mental Illness are very worthy of our help and their illness is certainly worth your time.
Another thing I believe we should try to do is to maximise our understanding of ourselves and what our feelings and what our behaviours are telling us. Read the basics and ask questions of those who know and have experience with mental illness.We should not make assumptions and we should be careful in our choice of words to describe how we are feeling.
A good example of understanding the basics that comes to mind is the term depression as opposed to feeling depressed. We all have those times when we don’t feel like talking or going to work. We feel out of sorts or off beat, unable to verbalise our problem. We cannot be bothered and we may feel that we are depressed. The end result is we often experience tears, anger or avoidance. Usually a change in routine, a good nights sleep, a holiday or simply a chat with a friend etc will pick us up and we are able to move on. If we took the time to think about what we are feeling at these times we would probably realise something triggered our thoughts. Maybe we were grieving, overtired, overwhelmed, scared or angry. Once we understand what we feel we can justify it, and therefore can react accordingly. We are feeling sad, we need to cry, we feel life is boring or annoying, we feel depressed.
When someone is suffering depression or chronic depression it is not the same thing. There is often not an immediate feeling. It is something that is just there. They are not necessarily in a bad situation or feeling sad, etc etc etc. It is not something that is easily explained. As described to me they are not there at that time, they are not able to self talk, motivate, explain or describe. They are surrounded by a black cloud. Nothing exists. I experienced this once for a mere day. I did not realise what I was experiencing at the time and still cannot explain the time it happened. After the time passed I certainly identified with what had been previously described to me and it shocked me to have completely lost control of myself at that time. From then I understood in a miniscule way the debilitation that comes with true depression. To live like that for any length of time, days, weeks or months is unfathomable to the average person. For someone who goes in and out of depression for years on end it becomes normal and therefore minimised both by themselves and by those surrounding it. It is not a passing phase and can be undone by going shopping as some would say. It needs professional help by way of medications and psychological assistance. A few other examples to consider.
- Feeling depressed vs. Depression or chronic Depression
- Feeling anxious vs. Anxiety or Chronic Anxiety
- Feeling indestructible or being a risk taker vs. having Bipolar
- Dieting vs. Eating Disorder
- Feeling sad and frightened vs. PTSD Post traumatic Stress Disorder
- Being clean and tidy or fastidious vs. having OCD
I value others opinions and experiences so ask you to comment below if you wish.