Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

May Is Mental Awareness Month

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
February is Heart Disease month, as you have probably heard through television ads or radio announcements in your hometown. You understand the synopsis of heart disease: that is a term used to describe a range of medical complications having to do with a narrowing of the veins and arteries that lead to and from the heart, carrying the blood and oxygen that is vital to life itself. You probably also know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. You may know someone in your family, a friend’s family, or even an acquaintance’s family, who has developed heart disease. You can easily imagine your response if they revealed to you, “My uncle/grandmother/father/cousin/friend etc. has heart disease.” You immediately share in their grief, offering condolences. You comfort, send flowers, and hope for the best outcome. You ask how they are doing. It isn’t hard for you to imagine the struggles and worries of the family.
Now let’s imagine a different scenario. A friend approaches and discloses the information: “My mother/father/sister/brother/neighbor etc. has schizophrenia.”
How about “My mother/father/sister/brother/neighbor etc. has depression”?
How about “bipolar disorder”?
What’s your response now? How do you create an appropriate response to this kind of news if you don’t understand the synopsis of the above like you so readily do heart disease?
Mental illness. These two words have existed since ancient civilization, when Greeks developed the humorism theory to diagnose and treat those who were too ‘cold’, ‘dry’, ‘warm’, or ‘moist.’ But you are probably more aware of the horror stories that occurred during 18th century: jail-house-like institutions, shock therapy, lobotomies, and antipsychotic drugs with painful physical side-effects. You think you understand vaguely the implications of mental illness, but do you really?
While the suffering of those of who live with mental illness has been bettered through the centuries with increasing research and public awareness, it still staggers the mind how many people around the world remain ignorant to it even today. In reality, there is still a thick cloud of stigma that surrounds those with mental disorders. Their illnesses are often passed off or pushed under the rug as pure moodiness, unpleasant temperaments, distinct sensitivity or passivity, or the like. Mental illness seems to be easier for the public to “understand” if they simply pass it off as an active choice of lifestyle of the sufferer, or even blame the sufferer for being naturally “abnormal.” Which brings me to the question: So what if someone is naturally abnormal? By ‘abnormal’ I mean in the sense that they do not integrate with those personalities that are deemed socially acceptable.
Let me make one fundamental point here: Mental illness is not a choice. Nobody decides to be depressed, nobody can control their bipolar mood swings, and certainly nobody actively subjects themselves to frightening hallucinations or paranoia out of their own free will. Mental disorders arise from a combination of stress-related environmental factors that ‘trigger’ the disorder(often experienced during youth as abuse or neglect) and the sufferer’s own neurological and biochemical makeup within the brain, which has been empirically shown to be different in those with mental illness than those without it. So who are we to judge or ridicule or condemn another human being for having to live with personal disability?
I liken mental illness to a disability here because it truly does disable the sufferers, who often times without treatment are forced to quit their jobs, lose important social connections, and whose moods become worse due to the stigma they suffer from society, their workplace, and even friends and family. Keep in mind that these are not active choices, as I have previously stated. Those with mental illness want nothing less than to go back to their jobs and be able to socialize normally. An essential point of being diagnosed with a mental illness is that they cannot function properly in society , due to the problematic symptoms and signs of their disease.
If mental illness and physical disability share common roots, then why do we separate the two factions so harshly in our actions and ideas? Society and government bolster the plight of children born without limbs, adults who suffer from neurological disorders, fund programs for the blind and the deaf. They are represented as brave and courageous, and above all they are approached by society with compassion and empathy for their strength in going on with their lives. Why do we not extend the same understanding to those with mental illness? Why do we call instead shame them by blatantly displaying ignorance to their illness and calling them derogatory terms like “weirdos” or “crazies”? They are human beings, with emotions and ideals like you and I. Are we as a society so obtuse that just because we cannot see their illness with our own eyes we cannot comprehend it with our minds?



Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback