As much as mental illness isn’t what I would wish for anyone, it’s important to stress that it has no respect for a person’s age, economic status or race — it can happen to anyone!
Mental health statistics show that more than 54 million Americans are affected by mental illness.
The incredible advancement in the medical science department has since helped the mental health sector in further understanding, curing and eliminating the causes and symptoms of mental health disorders or illness.
However, the brain is a very complicated organ and its research appears unending.
There are some levels of brain functions and malfunctions that scientists are yet to fully grasp.
Leading research centers put so much effort into brain research, in a bid to fully understand the brain and tackle mental illness.
However, research has led to numerous conclusions regarding the brain. One of which is that mental illnesses occur as a result of chemical imbalances in the brain.
These chemical imbalances can arise as a result of excessive stress, substance abuse, or it could be a hereditary disorder.
Most individuals forget the fact that the brain, like any other body organ, is susceptible to diseases. There are behaviors often exhibited by people suffering from mental illness. Some of which include:
- Extreme sadness
- Hallucinations (severe cases)
- Total withdrawal (severe cases)
Sadly, people with mental illness have become accustomed to discrimination, stigma, and most times, hostility.
What Is Stigma?
So many mentally ill patients have been stigmatized at some point during their illness.
“A stigmatized individual is someone suffering from being viewed and treated differently, either because of his mental health or other negative distinguishable characteristics.”
The fact that this negative behavior or reaction towards mentally ill people is seen as a norm by many is quite disheartening.
Stigma and discrimination, more often than not, go hand in hand. Most times, people associate discrimination with race and gender.
On the contrary, discrimination has many forms. For instance, it could be as clear as someone blatantly avoiding contact with a mentally ill patient, because of assumptions that the patient is violent or dangerous.
These actions have effects on mentally ill patients, they may begin to doubt themselves, begin to think they don’t belong anywhere, all because of the reactions to their condition.
Some of the effects of stigma are listed below:
- Fear of association, leading to reluctance to visit specialists for treatment
- The feeling of not belonging, even among friends and family
- Job opportunities are few and far between for these individuals
- Development of a lack of self-belief or low self-esteem
- The sense of detachment from the world
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a disease of the brain, therefore, any disease that leads to disruption of the mental capability like perception, thinking, and behaving.
If proper care is administered to a mental health patient on time, he can recover in no time, and return to normal. Many mental health disorders are found to be hereditary or having some kind of biological background.
However, there’s a large percentage of mental health patients that are due to the patient’s environment and experiences.
The Five Major Categories Of Mental Illness:
1). Anxiety Disorders
This is the most common mental illness in the history of mental illnesses. There are three main types of Anxiety disorders, namely:
- Panic disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Phobias are often associated with some form of objects, animate or inanimate. Objects like water, bees and the list go on and on.
Panic disorders are usually associated with a feeling or sometimes no reason at all. A patient suffering from this undergoes an intense feeling of fear, for no real reason, this can lead to a heart attack.
The obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder where the patients repeat words or phrases or repeat any action, in a bid to tackle anxiety.
2). Mood Disorders
Types of mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. Patients suffering from mood disorders mainly have mood swings, some of which they manifest by showing:
- Extreme sadness or elation
- Sleep and eating disturbances
- Changes in activity levels
- Changes in energy levels
This is a serious mental disorder, it affects the patient’s thinking capability, feeling capability, and the way they respond to certain actions.
Medical research shows that this mental disorder is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Symptoms include:
- Incoherent speech
- Impaired reasoning
Dementia is a common name among movie lovers. A patient suffering from this disorder, experiences loss of mental functions, and memory.
5). Eating Disorders
Eating disorder is further classified into two, namely; Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia. These are deadly disorders and should be handled with maximum care.
An anorexia patient suffers from self-starvation while a bulimia patient suffers from overeating and self-induced purging or vomiting.
10 Ways to Overcome the Stigma Associated with Mental Illness
Having explored the meaning of mental illness and stigma, the categories and symptoms, it’s time to dive into the most effective ways to overcome the stigma that comes with it.
1. Accept Your Feelings
It is common among humans to deny symptoms. What I find most unnecessary is this coming from family members and friends.
Nowadays, people are concerned about their reputation, or what people will say about them.
Families and friends often ignore symptoms, because of the fear of the stigma they or their family would face.
There’s a popular saying that “the first step to solving a problem is accepting and acknowledging the problem.” Accept these feelings and try to understand the illness your friend or family member is going through.
2. Learn to Handle Unusual Behavior
We all know that mentally ill patients often act up. Spurring up different behaviors and different times, most times their reactions don’t match the situations.
They could burst into laughter in a sad happening, or burst into tears uncontrollably. Or be withdrawn from social happenings.
Whether private or public, it is quite difficult to accept this behavior.
To overcome stigma and help the patient recover, you and your family members need to learn how to handle such behaviors. You can talk to a mental health specialist on this topic.
3. Establishing a Support Network
Most traditional beliefs prevent families from discussing personal issues with ‘outsiders.’ However, if you feel this is your case, find a support group.
Support groups usually consist of people with the same issues helping each other get better.
In these groups, you are always handed the room to share your experiences with people who really understand what you’re going through.
4. Seek Counseling
Family members and individuals should seek counseling. The therapist would help the family come to terms with the situation and help them help the patient in the right way to ensure a quick and full recovery.
It’s often advisable you seek professional advice on choosing a therapist, your doctor would know just the right therapist to refer you to.
5. Taking Time Out
In a family where one of their loved ones falls mentally ill, it’s common for the whole family to kind of concentrate on the individual.
Focusing all their attention on this loved one. In this case, members of the family need to take time out.
This way, you avoid the risk of getting frustrated and venting your frustration on the patient. This would only hamper the patient’s recovery because mental illness is very delicate and should be handled with care.
Take some time out for yourself, keeping in mind that proper care would result in recovery. This will help you a lot. Only a physically and emotionally sound individual can successfully help a mentally ill patient.
6. Don’t Believe That You Are Your Illness
For the patient, you need to stop seeing yourself as the illness, mental illness can happen to anyone. This is a clear example of the popular saying “charity begins at home.”
For example, bipolar disorder patients should not use the sentence ‘I am bipolar.’ Rather use ‘I have bipolar disorder.’ Convincing yourself is the first step to recovery.
7. Don’t Isolate Yourself
Mentally ill patients often find it difficult to associate with orders. And you can’t blame them, can you?
They go through a lot from the so-called ‘mentally-healthy’ crowd. However, overcoming this big hurdle shows the crowd that you are after all humans as well.
Don’t isolate yourself, tell your people about it. Your family and friends will surely offer you support and take care of you.
8. Get Help at School
If the mental health patient is a student or a pupil, make sure the school is aware, or better still, enroll such individuals in a school suitable for them. This way, the stigma is overcome.
Because schools are the most important parts of anyone’s life growing up. So a stigmatized school experience is never good for anyone to let alone a mental patient.
Talk to school authorities, seek support groups in school. This is important because a classmate or teacher that is not aware of the mental patient can unintentionally discriminate against the patient.
9. Speak Out Against Stigma
I’ll admit, it’s easier said than done. Someone needs to stand up for a cause, for that cause to succeed.
This way you can spread the right information and encourage yourself and others in the fight against mental illness stigma.
10. Get Treatment
This is the most important of all, even though it’s coming last on my list. Treatment should be the first on yours. Don’t let the fear of asylums or hospitals prevent you from seeking treatment.
Getting treatment early helps you to diagnose and identify symptoms early and besides, it’s the only way you can get better.
What I have come to understand in this world we live in, is the fact that people go about making judgments about situations they clearly don’t understand.
Following these ways will help you and other people to understand your condition and hence overcome stigma together.