A Compassionate Look at Mental Illness
Mental health issues are widespread. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, in year 2014, there were 43.6 million adults suffering from some form of mental illness in the United States. This represents 18.1 percent of the population. In other words, approximately 18 out of every 100 persons in the U.S. has some form of mental illness at any given time. Yet, because of the negative stigma attached, we rarely hear about it. People are reluctant to mention that they take medication to soothe their anxiety or at they go to therapy to address the issues contributing to their depression. Indeed, I have seen people pay out of pocket for their treatment so that it wouldn’t be recorded through their insurance company. Mental illness, for some reason, has been viewed as different from other types of illnesses. People will readily talk about how they took an antibiotic to clear an infection, but are reluctant to talk about how they took an antidepressant to elevate their mood. Somehow, shame comes into play. People simply don’t feel good about not feeling good! Sadly, this is made worse by others who, knowing little about mental health issues, make insensitive remarks. All of a sudden, anyone who shows anger is deemed “Bipolar” and people who are eccentric are deemed “nuts.” A lack of understanding turns into a lack of empathy. It is my hope that by providing this forum people may gain an understanding of mental illness that allows them to replace ignorance with understanding and judgment with compassion.
As a psychologist, I have found that compassion often comes when an individual can relate to the circumstances of another – when the space between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ is minimized. Knowing this, I wish to bring to your awareness two truths about mental health. First, mental health is a flexible (ever-changing) state that can be represented on a continuum. It is not a matter of whether an individual is sick or healthy, but rather how sick or healthy one is at a particular time. As such, mental health is an issue pertinent to every individual – therapists, patients, and readers alike; for with every revolution of the clock’s hands may come a new set of circumstances that could sway each of us in either direction. Indeed, life has a way of having an impact, and if you’re alive – if you’re human – you’re at risk! Given this, it is my hope that you find within yourself the ability to suspend judgment and to extend compassion to those who have to dig a little deeper or work a little harder, for the arduous task of being or becoming well can be made easier by the kindness of another. Secondly, I would suggest that mental health is determined not only by the presence or absence of clinical symptoms, but by the presence or absence of the self – not the false self often presented to the world, but the real self – the authentic self – who you were when God made you and who you would be if society hadn’t shaped you into something else. The excavation and expression of the authentic self – discovering who you are and living to your fullest potential – is the journey towards well-being. It is a shared journey for all of humanity, making each of us more alike than different.