Breaking the Silence
Mental illness and I are no strangers. I am a clinical psychologist and deal with mental illness in my work on a daily basis.
However, I also have the challenge of confronting mental illness in my own family. There has been schizophrenia and a lot of depression. No one ever spoke about it as I was growing up because of the associated stigma.
Those who suffer from it, or who have people they care for suffering from mental illness, know that the stigma attached to the disease can be as painful as the disease itself. Mental health issues are something that many families deal with and it can be a relief to know that other people suffer from them as well, but that can only happen if people start talking more openly .
If more light is shed on mental illness through healthy conversation, rather than hushed tones, the fear, embarrassment and misconceptions will stop.
The silence (and false portrayals of mentally ill people as psycopaths in movies ) not only creates but also adds toxicity to the stigma and the misconceptions developed about what it means to be mentally ill.
These misconceptions lead people to hurl epithets such as crazy, nuts,or psycho, which only reinforce the fear and embarrassment.
Consequently, people are prevented from openly discussing their illness because strangers, friends, family, the stigma in your very own mind, will tell you “you’re crazy”, “you have no self-control”, “you cannot function normally within society”, “ you’re weak”, “ you can’t be trusted on the job”…
Nothing can be further from the truth. Stigma is a toxic, deadly, hazard which must be eliminated.
Mental illness is a malady of the brain. The brain is an organ that can get sick just like any other in the body. Like most diseases, it has many causes, including genetic, environmental and social/cultural. And just as with most diseases, mental illness is noone’s fault.
The unusual associated behaviors are symptoms of the disease – not the cause.
But most importantly, mental illnesses are treatable through medication and psychotherapy. And fortunately, most people are not treatment-resistant, thus allowing those who suffer the opportunity to lead full and productive lives.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in six adults and one in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic-stress -disorder), anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Furthermore, the WHO says that by the year 2020 unipolar major depression will be the second leading cause of death and disability, with heart disease being the first.
In the end, talking about mental illness will stop the misconceptions and eventually bring the terrible silence to an end.