Nobody Talks About It
Among other recent college grads, I often hear jokes about the relevance of those pesky ‘Gen Eds.’
“I’m sure glad I know about trigonometry this tax season,” they say. “It’s a good thing I can map constellations, I just wish I knew how to change a flat tire.”
Though I am so grateful for the knowledge I gained from my education, I can agree that there are times I wish I had learned things that have more practical applications. One of the biggest areas for improvement that I see is the move to include more education regarding mental illness. For many of us living with a mental illness, the realization was slow and painful simply because we did not recognize the warning signs. Of course the symptoms are always difficult to recognize in yourself, but so many of us do not even know what they are. I can recall as a teenager being taught things like “suicide is not the answer” but we were never given any additional tools or coping mechanisms. Because of a limited awareness, many people do not realize that they are living with a treatable illness but rather accept a new reality and plunge deeper into its grip. From a social perspective, this is one of many ways mental illness is a challenge.
The Stigma Of Mental Illness
In America especially, we value an individualist society where everyone looks out for herself and, if faced with an obstacle, pulls herself over it. Asking for help or even admitting that you are struggling is considered a weakness and can hurt you socially. Mental illness is alienating enough as it is, but the lack of understanding surrounding it leads to a stigma that can cause one to feel like they have been completely ostracized from society.
On many job applications, applicants are given the opportunity to tell the organization they have a disability—this is information you can choose whether to reveal. Though my hand always hovers over the box labeled “depression,” I always choose not to check it because I am worried that, though it is illegal to fire or not hire someone on the basis of a disability, it will hurt my chances of getting the job. Still, there are days when I wish this was something I could openly discuss with my boss. If depression were a physical illness like cancer, she would, of course, be engaged and understanding and give me all the time off I needed, she might even tell me to go home on days I looked tired or worn down. When the illness, however, is something invisible like depression, you are expected to behave as if you are perfectly fine.
Even when one is able to diagnose and admit their own mental illness, treatment is another bear entirely. Because we still do not really understand what causes mental illness or how it works, the medications available often do not do much to help. Studies have shown that roughly half of those taking antidepressants will see no improvement. That is pretty bleak. In addition, other methods of treating mental illness such as alternative therapies are also proving to be popular. If you look at marijuana statistics for example, some people are using cannabis as a way of relieving anxiety. Ultimately, there is no one method of treatment for any mental illness. And while this is good to an extent—not everyone will respond the same way to the same treatment—it can also mean that someone wastes time in a treatment plan that does not do anything for them.
Therapists Are Dime A Dozen
It is also important to know that, in the United States, anyone can be a “therapist.” The good ones who know their stuff have degrees in some kind of psychology or sociology and—this is big—they are licensed. You hear horror stories about clients who were abused or made worse by a therapist, only to find out that, often, those “therapists” were set up in someone’s garage asking you to recline on a moldy sofa.
Therapy is an excellent way to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, but so many people do not know how to find a therapist who fits their needs that it remains a challenge. Even when someone does find a medication or professional that helps manage their symptoms, when they find themselves improving it can be hard to stick with it—so many times someone with a mental illness will stop taking medication because they “feel better,” forgetting that there is no cure for mental illness, only a way to keep it a bay.
Mental Illness Is Largely Ignored
I think the biggest challenge about mental illness is that it is not taken seriously. When there is a school shooting or other violent event, the media rushes to call for reform in the mental health world, ignoring the fact that most people suffering from mental illness are not violent. Furthermore, when the hype surrounding such an event wears off, everyone goes back to ignoring mental illness as a legitimate medical concern.
According to the World Health Organization, if world leaders invested $147 billion in better mental health services, they would see a return in the following 15 years that could be more than $700 billion. It is sad to me that we had to reduce the suffering of humanity to an economic figure to make an impression, but I hope that figure does. Many of the challenges faced by those with a mental illness are issues of priority and perception that I look forward to seeing change in the coming years.
This concludes our month-long conversation on life challenges and the various forms they take. Do browse the archive to find the posts from our Contributors, including a short-story series and Tuesday Thought© videos. Never miss a post by subscribing! It is free and your privacy is protected. As well, you will receive Claudette’s monthly newsletter, one daily update of our post, and Weekday Wisdom© which is morning motivation straight to your inbox.