What comes to your mind when you are having a regular evening conversation with some friends and then someone brings up an issue of mental health and mental illness? Do you immediately feel sympathy for those affected and say a short prayer for them? Do you cringe as images of violent patients in chains roaming the hallway of a psych ward pop into your mind, or do you just waive it off and press your friends to move on to more relevant topics of discussion?
Whatever your reaction, it is become increasingly obvious that the issue of mental health and mental illness is not getting the attention it deserves.
It may surprise you to learn that mental illness affects roughly 25% of the world’s population, yes! 1 in 4 people in the world have or is at risk of developing one form of mental illness or the other. This can range from psychotic disorders, anxiety disorders, major and minor depressive episodes, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders.
In spite of how common and widespread mental illnesses have become over the years, there is still a lot of stigma and negative preconceptions attached to the mentally ill.
These views can lead to discrimination, which maybe why those suffering from mental disorders are so poorly cared for and often do not seek treatment.
The Mayo Clinic reports that some harmful effects of these prejudices on mental illness can lead to; reluctance to seek help or treatment, lack of understanding from family or friends, fewer opportunities to work, and bullying among peers.
Imagine this for a second, you pick up your phone to call your local fire department because a fire has broken out in your home, but you pause for a while to think, what if calling the fire department wasn’t cool, what if you were expected to deal with the fire yourself and not raise any alarm? What if it wasn’t safe to call for help? What if calling for help meant that you would get judged?
This is an unfortunate example of the world that many people with mental illness live in.
Someone once said that “The worst thing about having mental illness is that people expect you to act as though you don’t have it” and those words cut deep. Imagine having a heart condition and the rest of the world expects you to act as if you don’t, everyone expects you to run 20 laps around your local football field everyday, eat massive amounts of harmful fats, enroll to participate in an upcoming marathon race and go deep-sea diving. You wouldn’t be able to do any of those things anymore and the people around you would understand that. It should be the same for mental illnesses, the brain is an organ, just like the heart, lungs and kidneys, when it becomes ill, it should be taken care of and nurtured back to health and not ignored and expected to soldier on.
For people living with mental illness, receiving help is the most important thing that can happen to them, and for their friends and family, aside from helping them get the help they need, including them in family and social activities is important, caring for them patiently, and carefully understanding them and their needs is almost as important as the medications that treat the illnesses.
I like to call it the “ICU of mental healthcare” ; Inclusivity, Care and Understanding.
And more reassuringly, unlike in yesteryear’s where a mental illness diagnosis was seen as incurable, results from a worldwide survey published in 2018 showed that when help is sought early and adequate care received, the 12 month recovery rate of mental illnesses was at almost 40%, up from less than 5% in the 20th and early 21st century. Mental illness should not be something to be ashamed or embarrassed about or thought of any differently. If it is treated, not equally to other illnesses, but according to the specific quirks it entails, many more people will have the courage to get help and become able to better their lives in the process.