(all puns intended!)
There is an unfortunate bad public attitude to mental health problems & issues in this country. Physical illness even of the most embarrassing nature is readily accepted by all and sundry, but mental health deficiency is a definite no go area – it carries a stigma. This is deep-seated and emanates from the period of the derogatorily named ‘nuthouse’. People readily understand that anybody’s body can break down at times or get damaged, but apparently it is almost inconceivable to most individuals that something should happen in the mind that makes that organ get sick or damaged (an attitude ostensible just because it is unseen). The complete illogicality of that is mind-blowing.
Probably the most common two problems that we have all have heard about are depression and anxiety – these can be diagnosed by a doctor but of course can’t be seen by anybody, thus they are most certainly not understood by most and so invokes a negative attitude. The cause of mental illness in an individual is not necessary known and that is a problem as it is a human mental trait to be wary of the ‘unknown’. Neighbours may well commiserate with someone for having a bad chest condition “I hope your breathing is a bit easier today”, but never really with someone with a mental illness; so you don’t get “how are you feeling in yourself today – is your depression getting better with the medication? Or “I hope your anxiety difficulty is improving and you don’t feel too tense”. All mental problems can get very serious so it doesn’t help for such an illness to get shunned.
Mental health problems can hit in many other areas and be reflecting in such things as anorexia, baby blues, phobias, manic episodes, and of course the much misunderstood schizophrenia (in this condition people can be confused, may hear voices, and perhaps be delusional]. Anyone suffering from mental illness needs the support of family and friends to get better – and it is not a ‘catching’ illness (and people do get well again).
People’s attitude is based on fear and ignorance – and that keeps prejudice alive. In Britain we ignore mental health problems (and most have only heard of one psychotherapist Sigmund Freud), whereas in America if you don’t have your own therapist your friends think you must be mental. Medication for some problems comes in the form of antidepressants (it is a bit worrying though that some of them can cause depression, so that is a bit of a difficult one to work out!). More and more families are being involved in mental health issues because of dementia, the incidence of which is growing fast (already three quarters of a million suffers).
There can be no doubt that in dealing with mental illness society has moved on since the Middle Ages when it was characterised by prison, workhouse, and madhouse. There have been periods in olden times when those ill were treated most cruelly or simply abandoned in asylums, before in more modern eras attempts at treatment were pursued and those ill became patients to be cared for in hospitals. The great difficulty has been lack of medical knowledge about the brain and its working – in the layman’s perspective there seems to have been some horrific so called treatments even in recent ages (including lobotomy and ECT).
The law has always had a nightmare dealing with mental health issues and has at times found it difficult to reconcile widely differing views – so Mental Health Acts have had a torturous time in our parliaments. In the past half century one of the UKs major changes has been the move to provide many of the mental health services in the community (1959 Act) and the start of the widespread closures of asylums [it will not surprise the cynical to be warned that much of the change was driven by money, or more accurately by lack of it, rather than concern by our politicians for the afflicted]. The law still provides the ability to ‘commit’ people to psychiatric units against their will (Sectioned) if they are considered a danger (to themselves or others); also compulsory treatment in the community may be actioned (2007 Act). Despite the general fear of the population there is in fact little danger posed by the mentally ill – they are more likely to be the victims of violence than to dish it out.
There are valid long standing and widely accepted statistics that guide us and should encourage all to develop a more positive acknowledgment of mental health problems; in Britain a quarter of people have a problem each year, and ten percent of adults will suffer depression or anxiety, so everyone will be too close to the subject not to be touched by it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Perhaps you also have something to learn?