Why we think the way we do about mental illness
Mental health awareness is the month of May. More and more people are being diagnosed and probably twice as many aren’t.
Mental health awareness took on a new meaning for me last week. It shouldn’t have because I know many who feel the same way this person in the example below does.
I had a conversation with someone last week about one of their adult children, who has not felt well for a few months now. When I suggested it might be depression, the response was, “No, it isn’t depression.” I asked her how she knew and she explained, as so many do, that she was having only physical symptoms. I was going to press that illogic but I didn’t, although I will here.
Very, very often, physical ailments are the only symptoms of depression. And even if a person is never diagnosed as clinically depressed, it still mostly likely means that there is some mental and emotional “stuff” going on that is causing their issue, from back pain to headaches, to general malaise, etc. This has been proven to be the case in almost all physical ailments as well. We simply don’t want to face that we might be mentally or emotionally ill. For the life of me, I can’t understand that line of thinking but, on second thought, I guess I can.
I was diagnosed at a very young age (like maybe three or four) with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and, yes, that was an accurate diagnosis, and, yes, those symptoms needed to be addressed. My earliest memories of my childhood are pictures of me screaming in pain. Over the years, I was treated for IBS regularly. But had anyone examined why, they would’ve also diagnosed me with severe anxiety. And, trust me, I had good reason to feel anxious. The details I have and will forever keep to myself because I’ve dealt with them and they are now only part of a history that I rarely think about. God be praised for people who walked alongside me and helped me find myself.
Most people look at mental illness as something different from any other illness. Persons struggling with depression are open to great criticism and judgment. Those professing to be Christians often the biggest critics of all. I wonder what damage has been done to people over the years because they were treated differently for their mental illness than those, perhaps, with cancer.
Before anyone wants to strangle me, in no way am I diminishing the struggles of those with any terminal or life-threatening illness. But don’t you agree that these more acceptable illnesses bring far more empathy than a mental illness does? Not only are we not empathetic, we often ignore and run away from these people. It’s like we think it’s contagious. (The truth is, it usually hits too close to home.)
But mental illness can be terminal as well. The death this past Saturday of Naomi Judd is testimony to this. How grateful the world should be that her daughters did not call it anything else or cover it up, and neither did she. That’s true courage. But this kind of narrow-minded and judgemental thinking has just got to stop.
The stigma still lurks in the corners of most people’s minds and yet the very people who are so judgemental, I’ll just bet, struggle with mental health issues as well. No one, I repeat, no one operates at their most healthy mental and emotional level all the time. Think about it. We wouldn’t be living in a world rife with dysfunction, anger, etc. if we all did.
Anxiety, which pretty much everyone struggles with these days, is a mental illness. Uncontrolled anger is, at its core, a mental illness. Drinking too much. Eating too much. Spending too much. These are all forms of a mind that is not healthy. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy people do not engage in destructive behavior and yet every one of us does at some level.
We are all mentally unhealthy at times
Does this mean labeling these behaviors as a mental illness is an excuse for bad choices or criminal behavior? Of course not. But let me ask you if more people admitted they struggle with mental and emotional issues (it’s all a matter of degrees, of course.), wouldn’t the world be a better place? And if we quit defining mental illness as any different than any other kind of illness, we’d all function much better.
- You work with mentally unhealthy people all the time and they do as well.
- Do you live with mentally unhealthy people? They do as well.
- You play with mentally unhealthy people and they do as well. I know that because the Bible tells us so. Where, you ask?
Anywhere you read words like, “don’t be anxious,”
“don’t let the sun go down on your anger,”
“don’t be afraid.” (There is much more, but I think you get it.)
These and hundreds of other verses attest to the fact that we all deal with unhealthy minds and emotions and that God addresses them all. Maybe if we all started admitting we’re not mentally healthy all the time, it would be a start to understanding those whose struggles are more severe.Tweet
And with the latest statistics about anxiety/depression that erupted during the pandemic are to be believed, (and I’ll bet you all do), cases of these illnesses skyrocketed during the last two years. Young girls (I know one personally) with serious eating disorders have quadrupled. The young couple I know who are going through this with their thirteen-year-old, who was diagnosed at age twelve, are going through hell.
Let me ask you, did Jesus treat, talk to, or judge those he healed from mental illness any different than those he healed from a physical illness? Not that I read. Jesus made no such differentiation. So why do we?
We have to quit looking at people and judging their illness when each of us struggles with our own mental health at times. We just cover it up. And yes, covering it up successfully is totally possible. I did it for years. But did I have to? Seriously? (By the way, in my book I have a chapter titled “acting as if” but that is a self-help tool when used knowingly and intentionally.)
But I never once referred to myself as mentally ill. And, of course, I was. Anyone who has had traumatic experiences in their childhood that result in dysfunction in some part of their life is a person whose mind is ill. My parents would never have even considered that a possibility. No one else would have either. I functioned very well as far as anyone could tell and instead directed all that dysfunction to my gut. To this day, if IBS even begins to flare up, I immediately look at my emotions and my thinking.
It’s the degree that makes a difference.
Yes, mental illness has one qualifier that makes it different from other illnesses. And that is, of course, that a severely mentally ill person might well be a danger to others and to themselves. That does set apart the illness as different from others. But how many people does that apply to anyway? Very few. And the saddest part? The saddest part is if these same people had been treated early on, they probably would never have gotten to the place where they became a danger. Depression has an enormous price. Quit paying.
It’s not just winter that affects mental health
I find it interesting that May is the month designated for mental health awareness. But here’s what many people don’t know. We often think of the dark days of winter as making people more prone to depression and anxiety. What you might not be aware of is that as the days lengthen, many people find their depression worse. How can that be, you wonder? I mean the days are sunny and long and filled with fun……But that’s exactly why.
On long sunny days, seeing people outside having fun can be a nightmare for someone struggling with mental illness. They can justify secluding themselves on days when the sun doesn’t shine and when morning comes late and evenings comes early because they can sleep away most of the twenty-four-hour period. Over-sleeping is generally more the case with a depressed person than not sleeping enough. Anxiety is more the cause of insomnia. Depression and anxiety often co-exist so sometimes, it’s hard to know what is the cause.
Maybe we need another name
As I write this post, I am thinking to myself. Maybe we need another name for mental illness to get rid of the stigma, so more people will get the help they need.Tweet
Any ideas. Maybe mind dysfunction or mind illness. How about mind problems? Mind struggles? Tell me what you would call it.
be kind to yourself
Anyway, let’s all be kinder to those who struggle with mental illnesses, especially those with the garden-type variety, which is the largest majority of those diagnosed. And let’s be kinder to ourselves. I wonder if that’s where mental health begins anyway. be kind to yourself
Being kind to ourselves doesn’t mean excusing our unacceptable behavior. But I’ve known no one to have good mental health who consistently berates themselves. Besides, constantly putting ourselves down can be a great excuse to sit back and do nothing. We want our poor opinion of ourselves to be true because then we feel justified in avoiding doing anything about it. (Did you follow that?)
Have a blessed day.
some exciting news to share with you. I have finally self-published my book, Depression Has A Big Voice. Make yours bigger! (I’m late today because I needed to make sure everything was working on Amazon.) I am selling the e-book version for $.99 for the month of May. Perfect timing for mental health awareness month. I had no plans to target May, but apparently, God did. Is God’s timing spot on or what?
This is what the new cover looks like.
Hope to have it on B & N by the end of the book. Softback and hardcover coming soon. Please tell your friends and help me get this book out. Obviously, I’m not doing it for the money. I’m simply giving back because I’ve been given so much.