It can be at fault for some of our nastiest memories, and it can be a minor aspect of one’s life dealt with alone, with just the fewest of suspicions.
Mental illnesses aren’t ever clear-cut or textbook, and they afflict people in a variety of ways. Sometimes, they affect us – when we least expect it – and pass on within months, or even weeks. From a case of temporary depression to a long-lasting personality disorder, a mental illness is never quite simple. It’s just another layer added onto a complex person, an individual with individual traits and characteristics.
Simply put, mental illness is never a reason to judge someone, or a way to categorize them. There are just far too many ways in which a diagnosis can affect someone to be able to tell at first sight who they are or what they’re like – and that brings home an important message for us all: mental health issues are common, and something most of us struggle with, rather than just a few. And they rarely override who we actually are, even if they do change us.
Time and time again, stigma and a lack of understanding is blamed as part of a greater list of issues facing those with diagnoses like anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia. To alleviate some of that, we all have a few realizations to make.
It’s Not Black and White
When we talk about mental health issues like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and the various other disorders that can plague the human mind, it’s easy to fall into a black-and-white definition of having or not having a certain disorder. But often, it’s not quite that simple. You can have a normal mental health, yet still show depressive symptoms. You can even suffer from depression or anxiety on a temporary basis. Most of us often dip into moments of mental unrest in life’s most trying moments, but we never actually address these moments as mental illness – because they’re apt.
When grieving, it happens that a person may fall into a temporary depression. Sometimes, it can take weeks for them to snap out of it. Sometimes, it takes longer. And at times, they never do get out of it – and it develops into a disorder.
The issue here is that we too often see a great schism between people with a mental disorder and those of us without one – when really, it’s more of a slope. A gradient, along which most of us fall into places of darkness at one point or another in our lives. Mental illness isn’t something that only a select few deal with – while only 4 percent of the country deals with serious or severe mental disorders, about 20 percent of the country suffers from symptoms of mental illness, most commonly anxiety and depression.
It’s important for us to feel an obligation towards the mentally ill among us to be compassionate, and have a better understanding of their situation. No two cases of depression are alike, just like no two cases of schizophrenia fall within the same strict definition. Underneath the struggles, everyone suffering from a mental disorder is themselves – a person. Only in the most severe cases is that personality completely overwhelmed by their disorder.
We All Struggle
Struggling is a part of life – and no life is complete without its long list of mistakes, imperfections, harsh realities and moments of sheer unfairness. While there are many things we all regret, and a few things none of us would ever wish for, it’s all part of the great amalgamation that is life. And with all that, comes our need to react. Our need to feel sadness, sorrow, depression. Fear, and uncertainty. And of course, our fair share of merriments and joys, happiness and laughter.
Some of us struggle more than others, and some of us carry insights in life that few others ever will through that kind of struggle. And the fewest among us can say life is ever really fair. But it’s important to recognize that, for most of us, mental illness isn’t this giant distinction or farfetched aspect of life – it’s another part of the struggle that many people deal with, one we all have to become familiar with at some point or another – and one we all have to learn to deal with together. As a society, as a community, as a family.
By embracing the reality that we all have problems we need to work on individually and together, we can help others better deal with their diagnoses and symptoms – not by normalizing depression, generalizing mental illness or trivializing diagnoses like schizophrenia, but instead by spreading compassion, understanding, and an obligation to be better informed and less judgmental of those around us, choosing decency over prejudice.
The Really Bad Stuff
Of course, while most of us seem to suffer from concerning symptoms at one point or another, that’s not to say there’s a difference between the general populace and our depressive, anxious or psychotic symptoms and cases of an actual chronic disorder – one that lasts for years with noticeable abnormal symptoms that severely limit quality of life and can damage relationships, careers and lives in general.
Things like chronic major depression, life-long manic depression, general anxiety disorder and schizophrenia are serious, debilitating mental health diagnoses, and not something most people suffer from.
But by understanding how we all deal with concerning symptoms can help make these scary and dangerous diseases look less like intimidating conditions that draw stigma and fear, and more like societal problems that we need to address together, through compassion and understanding, and through the support of mental health causes that fight to improve general treatment and provide support to those who can’t afford to get better, or don’t have the support needed to keep on improving.
It’s not so much that applying mental health struggles across the general populace is meant to undermine the real and individual struggles of those who suffer from harsher, chronic conditions – but rather, it’s a way to draw attention to the reality of many of the conditions we so often stereotype and generalize without paying attention to the people suffering from them, or the similarities we share. A depressed person is still a person with a distinct personality and lifestyle, and their depression doesn’t automatically give them a single uniform outlook on life. And schizophrenia is not a disease that renders you unpredictable and dangerous.
Instead, by looking at these chronic issues as severe incarnations of symptoms most Americans suffer from at one point or another, we can better teach each other to be considerate, and show compassion, rather than fear. It’ll help us grow as a nation, grow as a society, and fix the scourge of mental illness. Today, more mentally ill people can be found behind bars than in hospitals or institutions. That alone may help give some insight into the problem at hand: we need to better understand and take care of each other, and better understand how to take care of each other.
It’s All Health
Mental or physical, it’s all part of our general wellbeing. We’re all in the painstaking and arduous process of doing away with the false dichotomy between focusing on mental and physical health. The reality is that we need to remind people to take care of their mind and body equally – to love, and cherish their mind and body equally. Stress management is just as important as weight management, and heart disease and diabetes can be just as debilitating and life-altering as the struggle with addiction or depression.
A dysfunctional life will exacerbate and sometimes even lead to mental and physical consequences. And in cases where genetics, environmental conditions or just a stroke of the worst kind of bad luck renders you a victim of a mental or physical debilitation, we need to remind each other that it’s a focus on both the physical and the psychological – not one or the other – that will lead to long-term healing.
Now, let’s not get facetious – sure, if you’ve got a piece of rebar lodged in your stomach, then physical attention and emergency care are obviously more important than a session with a shrink. But the keyword here is long-term. Anytime our health is in danger, we need to approach both physical and psychological treatment options, either alone or with a professional.
It’s a bit too absolute to say that the lack of cooperation, harmony and consideration between mental and physical treatment options is a big contributor to health problems today – there are many other issues out there that are a far bigger menace to society, most notably poverty and the resulting issues of malnutrition and poor education, and excessively high levels of stress.
But we can all, in our own way, apply the idea of treating ourselves both physically and psychologically without having to go to a doctor. General healthcare in the United States is an especially hot topic right now, and if the current political climate has anything to say about how Americans are going to get treatment in the near future, it’s that we all as citizens need to look for ways to improve our health and stock up on preventative measures, because relying on the government isn’t a current short-term option.
That means looking at what causes common physical and psychological issues, and looking for ways to avoid those causes and factors as best as possible. Cut out toxic relationships and avoid unnecessary foods. Reschedule your time to allow for better sleeping hours, and reschedule the way you eat to make use of the benefits of fasting. Take ten minutes a day to enjoy a view or smell fresh coffee, and do some quick and simple stretches when getting out of bed. Keep notes, stay on track of your wellbeing, and make small changes to be a better you.
This helps not just anybody struggling with physical health issues like obesity and heart disease, or mental health issues like anxiety – it also helps everybody else avoid these conditions, and lead a generally better life.
Just Get It Done
Now, aside from the general difficulty of getting the treatment we need, Americans also struggle with something else – a lack of motivation.
This is especially true in cases of depression, a mental illness that affects 15 million Americans and is basically built around the concept of constantly draining motivation. The ideas of stretching or exercising after waking up, enjoying a view and even reworking schedules and meal plans are far-fetched at best in cases of depression. Anybody suffering from depressive symptoms has probably done the research needed to know roughly what it is they’re supposed to do – doing it, though, is another matter.
So don’t do it. Not all at once, at least. If you struggle with the idea of totally turning your life around, take a single simple change and try it on for size. It can be anything – start with sleeping better. It’s a relatively simple task, and one you can focus all of your remaining willpower and motivation on. Take control over the way you sleep.
Within a few weeks, that’ll just become another part of your life.
So get to adding the next little thing – like cutting out sodas, and replacing them with water. Better hydration and better sleep can already help immensely in cases where these two things are severely lacking, improving your mood and your body’s regular physical functions.
You don’t have to follow a specific guide to improving your life – if you’re unhappy in any way, just take ten minutes right now to make a little list of all the things you know you could or should be doing to be a better you, regardless of whether you’re ill, and pick one thing to get started on for now. Trying to completely turn your life around can get tiresome and is easily given up on. One minor change is far easier to sneak in.