I have no credentials to diagnose people. Yet I have achieved milestones of higher education in fields having to do with emotional wellness, and my experience has taught me a lot. Simply put…

  • Mental illness
    • Being trapped for a significant amount of time in a state of being that significantly lowers quality of health.

Someone may not realize that they are ill. Thus, it’s important to state that mental illness can be gauged by quality of function in daily life.

  • Mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness
    • “a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.”
  • The DSM
    • Diagnostic Statistical Manual
    • Determines if someone is mentally ill or not by criteria
    • The DSM has its own definition of mental illness
      • “a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning.”
      • Translation: mental and physical aspects that keep one from thinking, feeling, or acting in a healthy manner.
        • They also slide an (obvious, but important) reason in there: dysfunction in mind and/or body. They do not touch on spirit.

Following their statement:

“Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities. An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder. Socially deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.”

Translation: They begin stating that people with mental illness frequently have issues socializing and working. The rest of is very important.

  1. An expected or “culturally approved” state may partly mimic signs of mental illness
    1. Grief over having a loved one die is generally very normal. Grief is not clinical depression.
    2. It’s usual for students to experience anxiety over a college exam that determines 25% of one’s grade. Anxiety over crucial academic performance is not automatically panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
    3. If people aren’t active, physically and otherwise, their brain will have a hard time calming down. The stressor in this case is ironically (largely) the lack of stress. Chronic trouble falling asleep isn’t abnormal if one spends most of their waking hours in bed drinking coffee and watching TV.
  2. Having uncommon and possibly controversial (they say “deviant”) political, religious, and/or sexual preferences, does not mean mental illness. For instance…
    1. People with anarchistic, communistic, or radically nationalist political opinions
    2. Religiously: Jews for Jesus, paganistic belief systems, or Tantrism
    3. Those who find the greatest sexual pleasure from inflicting or receiving pain, prefer a mate of significant age difference, or who are simply asexual, are not mentally ill simply because of these preferences
  3. And neither are “conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society”
    1. This brings to mind civil disobedience, which started with Henry David Thorough refusing to pay a poll tax to protest the war with Mexico in the mid 19th century. This inspired King and Gandhi. Later on, people burned their draft cards during the Vietnam war, and more recently, physically blocked trucks carrying supplies to frack
  • Traditional psychiatric theory focuses on mental illness as too much, or too little, of neurotransmitter (chemical messengers in the brain) activity
  • Specifically the monoamines
    • Dopamine
    • Serotonin
    • Norepinephrine
    • Epinephrine

But even seven years ago (a long time, science-wise), we knew things are probably much more complicated than that. For instance, the natural science of depression isn’t so simple as a lack of the chemical messenger serotonin.

Here are responses to some common beliefs about mental illness

Mental illness…

…isn’t real: False. Various ancient societies and belief systems, as well as some of the present, would not agree that what much of the industrialized world sees as illness, actually is. In some cases, the mentally ill would be prophets; it’s not uncommon for those with schizophrenia to state that God talks to them. From one point of view, the biblical prophets were schizophrenic. And at that time and place, they would be right.

But we don’t live in India two thousand years ago, or in the holy land of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) around the time that Christ was said to walk the earth. We live in 2016. Perhaps it is society that’s sick, not us mentally ill. I think both viewpoints are legitimate, and have come to believe both. I don’t make mental illness my identity, nor do I think of the label given to me as part of a wider conspiracy to sabotage creative thought.

…is a product of laziness: False. All kinds of people develop mental illnesses, including those who lead extremely active, productive lifestyles. Mine struck while I was at a great height of productivity. While lack of motivation and initiative to promote health overall can make the disease worse, mental illness is not the fault of the mentally ill.

…has no physical basis: False. Science doesn’t know a whole lot about the brain. However, physical markers exist. Again, traditional psychiatry is far too reductive. But that doesn’t mean the whole idea of a physical basis to mental illness should be thrown out the window. I can affirm from personal experience – I’ve been around enough mentally ill people to know that it doesn’t only exist, but that it exists to such a degree that to deny any physical correlate would be a very difficult position to defend. There are sections  specifically devoted to many mental disorders, including current understanding of how the nervous system is altered in these people.

…can have serious consequences: True. If not treated, mental illness can cause severe self-harm; this could be a schizophrenic isolating to the extent of losing all social skills, someone with borderline personality cutting themself to the bone, or an alcoholic destroying their liver and and pickling their brain.  It can also lead people to commit the worst sorts of crimes to other humans. Any given mental illness can be harmful. There are also some people who have symptoms mild enough that they can be controlled with minimal help, or without assistance. It’s important to ask for and genuinely receive outside opinions regarding this.

…can be treated with just medication: False. While medication is sometimes necessary, the most effective way to treat mental illness is through therapy and support of friends and family, in addition to medication. The opinion of this website is that the three pillars of wellness: mind, body, and spirit, must also be tended to. Medication provides a sort of safety net, a crude one. The most ideal recovery begins by learning how to fit into, and feel comfortable surrounded by, out uniquely human society – growth in the most natural, sincere, healthful manner.

…makes one dangerous: Perhaps. Some mentally ill people don’t pose any threat. Others (such as myself) only hurt themselves, but there are mentally ill people who commit evil acts of verbal and physical violence when not engaging in treatment. I think a common misconception is that, particularly regarding disorders with psychotic elements, this makes the afflicted into (essentially) a crazed, violent image if a human. The truth is, most of those who battle psychotic symptoms, are far more scared of the healthy people and the community at large. They need to be shown the way, not categorized and left to die lonely for something that they had no say in.

can be an advantageTrue. I’m hoping to do this. I have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be severely mentally ill. I’ve been in some very miserable states of mind. Thus, I have some insight that academic study simply cannot convey. I hope to bring mental illness out of obscurity and make the topic less taboo. It’s my belief that anyone who’s mentally ill, and is capable, will be doing humanity a great service to relate their story. We’re a minority, just as blacks, women and everyone other than the typical societal image of a white, straight, burly male. Unfortunately, we lack the figureheads that these other minorities had. I believe that we need to come out into the open. There is no shame.

…takes away the rights of the mentally ill: Perhaps. Usually when this happens, it’s very important that it does. If a mentally ill individual is so symptomatic that they are dangerous, intensive treatment may be necessary. In these cases, not seeking treatment can lead to great complications, such that involve the legal system. If the mentally ill person isn’t a threat, they are granted, and deserve, their liberty. Whenever the law gets involved, things automatically get many times more serious. It should be our goal as a collective to speak out against unfair prejudice that dictates that we, particularly those with psychotic forces to battle, are not any less qualified to being granted civil rights and be looked up as equal, as any other citizen who’s been born with bad luck.

doesn’t mean that life will be unhappyTrue. If one is attuned to how they feel, and takes care of the illness, it doesn’t have to lead them to misery. Remember: it’s not their fault that they’re ill, but it’s their responsibility to take care of it. This requires a strong commitment, including regularly taking part in activities that are outside of the comfort zone. Adopting an identity, after early treatment, that doesn’t include mental illness at the forefront, would do a world of good. Everyone has interests, fulfilling hobbies, schizophrenics included. Unfortunately, addiction reaches out to us in particular, so that we can forget, if just for a few hours, our struggles, our solitude, and the misunderstandings that have kept us stigmatized.

…is something that should be kept secret: Perhaps. Society has made great strides recently, such as largely accepting homosexuality as natural and legitimate. While depression and anxiety are not usually very embarrassing to reveal, most of the public view schizophrenia as a synonym for “crazy”. It comes down to how comfortable one feels about sharing their experience, given the societal stigma. I think that if there are enough people speaking out, change will come. I want anyone to be able to tell anyone else what their mental illness is, just the same as their religion. I want them to not have to feel like they have to hide pain as a result of their symptoms, but openly express them, and be helped by citizens around them. I am determined to change the societal attitude. But I cannot do it alone.

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Sources: Dr. Paul Povinelli, Dr. Inge De Weille, Ben Komor