There’s a lot of talk these days about the “Stigma” surrounding addiction, and mental illness. Just the other day I saw a story on social media telling of some heinous crime that was committed by a “mentally ill” person. Again. No wonder the world thinks of us as entirely dangerous. I suppose the fact that the Stigma is being discussed is encouraging, but perpetuating the untruth that folks living with mental illness are dangerous certainly isn’t helping anyone. Consider for a moment, a definition of “mental illness”:
The Mayo Clinic:
Mental Illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions- disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior…many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.
So, many people have concerns from time to time. Personally, I have had concerns about others, many times, but they tell me that mentally ill people don’t usually see themselves as the crazy ones. And don’t get me started on the “Nature vs Nurture” theories. In my own experience, while living with a seriously disturbed individual, it became necessary for me to think like the person in order to (safely) communicate with them. I had to speak the language, which in turn caused residual mental issues that I had to overcome once I was away from them.
I’m sure most of the Stigma comes from just not knowing any better. When the world gives you the same (informational) menu every day for years, it’s difficult to consider that it’s been wrong all this time. I’m not a Mental Health Professional, but I have studied it for as long as I can remember. Initially my interest came from wondering why my perceptions appeared to be so different from everyone around me (because they were), but then the curiosity turned to trying to understand the folks that I interacted with on a regular basis.
For example, I was told that many years ago that my Dad was diagnosed as a Sociopath. I’m positive that’s why in my memory he never had anything good to say about Mental Health workers in general. As it turned out, Dad was the product of an abusive home, and he struggled with several issues, depression and addiction being a couple. I know that he had the Ism’s of alcoholism/addiction for as long as I knew him, and those may have, in fact, been the behaviors that caused people to think he was a Sociopath.
Another thing that causes me to ponder the Mental Health diagnoses is the multiple official diagnoses which have been changed or even removed altogether from being considered to be a “disorder”. So, does that mean that being crazy or not just depends on the time period in which you are seen by a diagnosing physician? Consider this:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or “DSM” is considered to be the reference for characterization and diagnosis of mental disorders. It’s had numerous adjustments since it’s inception in 1952. In the first edition of the DSM, there were 102 “broadly-construed diagnostic categories” , and by the time the third publication of the DMS came out in 1980, there were 265. When the DSM-IV was released, there were 297 diagnosable disorders…. (from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Someone said that the bottom line definitions of a mental disorder was behavior outside the realm of socially accepted behaviors. That, in a general sense, sounds about right.
Depending on whose information you believe, one-in-four or -five American adults experiences a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. So, if I work in an office with, say 20 other individuals, and I consider myself to be mentally healthy (Duh. I’m not ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!), then that means I’m working beside a pretty good amount of crazy -and potentially lethal, according to society- people! Wow! How do people find the courage to leave their houses?!
My suspicion, and, remember, I’m not a Professional, is that the larger part of adults today, in our country, are living with a whole lot of unnecessary duress and discomfort between their ears. Most will never see a Dr. about it, and do you know why that is? Because it would mean that they were, I don’t know, flawed? Less than perfect? Oh, that’s right, anyone who has a mental disorder must be a danger to themselves and others. I almost forgot.
What if the disorder is Depression, which seems to be the most prevalent? Those folks aren’t nearly as likely to hurt you as they are to hurt themselves. Like 99% more likely to hurt themselves.
What about Anxiety? Look up the stats on Veterans and suicide. PTSD is in the Anxiety family.
Ok, how about Bipolar (once known as manic-depression)? Or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Or Borderline Personality Disorder? Or Schizophrenia? Oh, I know, what about people like “Sybil” from that old Psych 101 film? Unless all that I’ve read or heard is wrong, these people are much more likely to IMplode than to EXplode.
While I will grant you that many of the people acting out violently in society may have some kind of mental imbalance or disorder, most of the individuals with a diagnosed mental illness will never be a danger to anyone but themselves. If you don’t believe me, ask the 4 or 5 people in your office.