Mental Illness in Today’s Society
Mental illness is a topic that still to this day is not represented/portrayed in the most accurate manner. When the word “mental illness” comes up in conversation, people have mixed thoughts and views on it. The actual definition of a mental illness reads: a disorder that can cause psychological and behavioral disturbances with varying severities. This somewhat wordy definition appears to portray a more conniving image of those who suffer from mental illnesses everywhere. To me, mental illness can be described as: a disorder that causes those effected to act/think differently than those who do not suffer from said disorder. One would think that someone with a mental illness is crazy or not suitable for certain aspects of life, this ludicrous thought is the very reason why many people stay silent about their mental illness and are not as likely to reach out for help/seek treatment.
Whether we like to admit it or not, society definitely plays a huge role in how mental illness is depicted. Many people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness. It’s definitely not uncommon to know someone or be someone who has a mental illness. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults (aged 18+) in the United States alone. That number would be equal to filling up the city of New York roughly about four times. While this specific disorder is highly treatable, only about 37% of those affected seek help. Other disorders include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and the list goes on. How does one develop a mental disorder you might ask, well it varies from a complex set of factors that include: genetics, brain chemistry, personality & life events. Another thing that isn’t discussed is that some people who suffer from a mental illness usually suffer from more than one. Should it be anxiety and depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, depression and bipolar disorder, or even all three! Anxiety can also co-exist with other disorders such as: Eating Disorders, Sleep Disorders and can lead to substance abuse. Theses disorders however do not define a person and most definitely do not limit a person from reaching their highest potential.
James P. McNulty wrote an article titled Commentary: Mental Illness, Society, Stigma, and Research. In said article, McNulty is a middle aged man who suffers from bipolar disorder. McNulty started off his article with a definition of stigma which reads: A mark of disgrace or infamy upon a person or thing. As he grew older, McNulty’s mood swings would worsen. It would eventually lead up to him unable to work, ending his marriage, losing his business and becoming homeless. After a suicide attempt at the age of 38, McNulty decided to reach out for State help for his bipolar disorder. McNulty was suggested to sell his last owning asset, his four-year old car to increase the chance of being the state’s patient. When he asked how he would travel back and forth from work once rehabilitated he was told “Don’t worry about going back to work. People like you don’t go back to work”. This was McNulty’s first experience with stigma regarding his mental illness. Stigma towards people who suffer from mental illnesses have pernicious and deleterious effects. Humiliation is experienced frequently in the public mental health system. McNulty goes on to speak about seeing an article published in the Daily Trentonian which featured an image of a burning psychiatric hospital with the title “Roasted Nuts”. Advocacy communities for mental health awareness and professionals alike did not appreciate the desensitized article. This dehumanizing, sick way of trying to make a joke is a perfect example of how society and the media think of those who are affected by mental illnesses. These largely negative, inaccurate portrayals of mental illnesses in media actually influence individual perceptions. As a society, we are obligated to do better.
While there are many negative effects that come with having a mental illness, staying positive and finding the good from having a mental illness graciously help. Anna Lente published an article titled 12 Benefits of Having a Mental Illness that lists twelve reasons why those with a mental illness should try to find the good and helpfulness that comes with this burden. The twelve benefits are listed below:
- The deep friendship/brotherhood with diverse and beautiful warriors of mental illness
- Being able to encourage others
- Appreciating small acts of kindness
- Appreciating the good days
- Knowing who your real friends are
- Being ready to handle whatever life throws at them
- Inspiring creativity
- Teaches those to think creatively to solve problems
- Makes life more interesting
- That sense of brokenness allows others to be real/open with you
- The emotional strength and courage gained by managing a mental illness
- Being better equipped to be a counselor
This list proves that even though one is at constant battle within themselves, people who have mental illnesses matter and actually do think of those around them. Being able to find a way to help others while sometimes not being able to help yourself is extremely selfless and inspiring. I only hope to one day be able to extend this form of gratitude upon others when needed and to continue for as long as humanly possible.
Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2020, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Lente, A. (n.d.). 12 Benefits of Having a Mental Illness. Retrieved October 10, 2020, from https://themighty.com/2017/05/benefits-of-having-a-mental-illness/