Mental illness isn’t well-understood by society. Throughout history, people with mental illness have been mistreated and abandoned by the world because they were simply believed to be “crazy.” Many cultures perceived mental illness as a type of “religious punishment or demonic possession”*, and this stigma of the mentally ill person as being insane, dysfunctional, and psychotic still exists today.
Mental illness does not mean you are broken. When you’re physically ill, are you broken? No–you just temporarily feel bad, and if you don’t treat it, it will get worse. Of course, when we have strep throat or a sinus infection, getting treatment is easy–we just see a doctor. There is no shame in being ill and seeing a doctor–everyone becomes ill and must see a doctor from time to time.
So why is mental illness different? Is everyone the picture of perfect mental health except for the few, incurable “crazy” ones? People don’t just “make up” having a broken leg, appendicitis, or a bunion, so why is it generally thought that mentally ill people are just weak people who are making it all up? Who can’t just get over it? Who are “incurable?”
Don’t tell me that all people don’t become mentally ill from time to time. Sure, you may not have a chronic mental illness, just like you may not have a chronic physical ailment–but everyone gets sick. Don’t try to tell me that a woman going through severe PMS, a child being bullied at school, or a husband who has been cheated on are the picture of perfect mental health. You won’t convince me that kids moving away from home to go to college are the picture of health, nor will you convince me that the parents watching those kids leave the nest are healthy. The symptoms range from mild to severe and may last anywhere from a day to a month to a year, but these people, in my book, aren’t necessarily mentally healthy.
You could think of thousands of scenarios which may cause a person to become mentally ill. Different people are immune to different “viruses” or ailments, but all have something that plagues them from time to time: struggling in classes, fear of public speaking, fear of committing to a new relationship, changing jobs, hearing distressing news about your child, frustration over failed diets–the list could go on forever. In one way or another, we each let ourselves become consumed with worry, negative thought processes, depression, denial, obsessive thoughts, or self-doubt, and without taking measures to “treat” or take care of yourselves, these problems may become debilitating.
Like anything left untreated, the ailment will plague you as long as you allow it. If you don’t address it, if you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t seek help–it will only affect your life that much longer, and it will keep you from living the life you want to live.
You may not be able to see the illness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Are things such as love and hate, happiness and sadness, comfort and loneliness all just figments of our imagination?
We are only denying ourselves as humans when we claim mental invincibility; when we aren’t honest with ourselves and others; when we hide in shame.
In different ways and at different times, we are all mentally ill. I am crazy, and you are crazy, too.
“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you.”** – Rita Mae Brown
“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.” – Richard Carlson
“My goal is to see that mental illness is treated like cancer.” – Jane Pauley