Ten Things you Should Know about Mental Illness
Mental illness is not neatly categorized and explained, and that can be a bit scary. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) gives descriptions of the many mental disorders affecting about 20 percent of the population. There are now about 300. Unfortunately, most diagnosis are based on behavior, no on medical diagnosis. In the end, the the primary effect of most diagnosis is stigmatization. A “cure” is not possible because they don’t have a medically diagnosable disease. The drugs prescribed are to control behavior.
The three mental disorders we most often hear about are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder (clinical depression.)
I have been up close and personal with all three: family members, close friends, colleagues, pupils and clients. I even did internships in big mental hospitals, back in the days before they closed their doors.
Here are the top 10 things I think everyone should know about mental illness and those diagnosed as mentally ill. If we all paid attention to these, the lives of the mentally ill would be a lot better.
1. Schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder can be treated and controlled with medication, but as yet there are no medical cures.
2. All three mental disorders involve an assumed physical dysfunction of the brain, but not as directly as diabetes involves a physical dysfunction of the pancreas.
3. People suffering from any of these disorders exhibit irrational behavior assumed to be linked to brain dysfunction. There may be extreme reality distortions; for example, hallucinations and delusions. Recall the movie of a few years ago, “A Beautiful Mind,” with Russell Crowe. At the very least perceived reality for the mentally disordered is often different from what most others perceive as reality.
4. The parents are traumatized by the psychiatric diagnosis of a mental disorder in their son or daughter, whether child or young adult. Their unresolved trauma shows up in denial, fear, anger, guilt, shame, blame, feelings of helplessness, and prolonged grieving. Their marriages often become at risk. They are also at risk of becoming estranged from their mentally-ill son or daughter through their well- intentioned efforts to help.
5. The parents desperately need to seek help for themselves, but instead they typically put all their emotional energy into their mentally ill children.
6. The mentally ill are first and foremost people, albeit people who may be severely traumatized. Many have had huge developmental traumas before diagnosis—learning difficulties, labeled as weird or different, and judged as stupid. Then as they begin to understand that they are different, the trauma of the realization produces the denial, fear, anger, shame and blame. Some slip into victim-hood, some suicide and some turn to substance abuse.
7. Those who have been diagnosed in early adulthood may experience prolonged grief over loss of hope, loss of the expectation of a productive future and the loss of the possibility of a marriage and children. yet we all know people with diagnosed schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who have gone on to live productive happy lives.
8. They badly need help with issues that are not necessarily part of their mental illnesses, but are the normal human aftermath of severe trauma. Such issues are treatable, especially with some of the cutting-edge energy-psychology methods.The traditional 55-minute session in the consulting room may not fit.
9. Those diagnosed as mentally ill need to build and maintain self-esteem, just like the rest of us. To maintain their personal dignity as adults they need to live as other adults do, independently of their parents and with as much self-responsibility as their condition will allow.
10. They also need to nurture their spiritual selves just as much as the rest of us do.
Let’s do our best to give those diagnosed as mentally ill the same chance as anyone else for some peace, self-acceptance, self love, connection and enjoyment of life. They may have an above average need for other to advocate for them at times, but never forget, they are real people who don’t deserve to be stigmatized.