A few months ago when I wrote my post “Why no one cares about chronic illness” a friend mentioned to me that I was right in calling out chronic illness, but that mental illness was something that people care about even less and I think she was right. There is a stigma on chronic illness, but the stigma on mental illness is even worse.
I’m the first to admit I don’t have huge amounts of experience in dealing with mental illness, however I know how I was treated when doctors were trying to convince me I was depressed. I wasn’t depressed, but if I had been the doctors certainly wouldn’t have been helpful. They tried to shame me and to throw antidepressants at me so my problem would be fixed. I thought, “wait a second, lets say I do have depression or another mental illness, you telling me that something is wrong with me, that I’m not good enough, that I should be ashamed and that I need to be fixed, is that really a solution to the problem? Is treating me like that really going to make this all better? Because I highly doubt it.”
I have a friend who is on a mood stabilizer She happens to have a lot of medical problems, problems that doctors are unwilling to treat because the second they look at the list of medications and see a mood stabilizer, she’s written off as crazy. Because nobody can be depressed and have medical problems right? Anybody with medical problems is happy 24/7! We just love being sick because it’s so fun! We never get down about bad doctors, our failing bodies, and our lost dreams, we’re happy we are sick! *sarcasm alert*
Why are patients with mental illness treated like there is something so fundamentally wrong with them that they deserve to be shamed and that they don’t deserve help, respect, or proper medical attention? And if doctors have this kind of attitude, what about everyone else? People are going to follow what doctors do, I don’t like it, but for some reason people respect and listen to doctors (not me, obviously). If doctors are acting like mental illness is something to be ashamed of, then people are going to ashamed and their friends and family are going to treat them like they should be.
This is wrong. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. It happens, it’s a fact of life. Half the people in America are on antidepressants, why do we still act like we are ashamed of that? Guess what, life sucks, and then you die, so some people might need some additional help to get through it. There is nothing wrong with that. There are also many more severe mental illness that society completely denies. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, we all like to act like these things don’t happen, but they do. I’m no psychologist but I do know that everyone’s brain is wired differently and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
The biggest problem with society’s shaming of mental illness is treatment, or lack of it. Many people are too embarrassed to get proper treatment. Many other people who know they need treatment and want to get it can’t, because insurance coverage for mental health is completely inadequate. Just for curiosity I checked to see what my insurance coverage was for mental health. I have pretty good insurance, and mine does cover more than I thought, visits to a psychologist are treated just like a doctor’s visit. However, should anyone in my family ever need any long term care, not so much. It’s horrible to even contemplate and I don’t expect we will ever need this services, but this does happen to people, and this is a need that is not getting met in our country.
Post Sandy Hook I have read stories of parents of children with mental illness. These parents are terrified for the future of their child and of what their child could end up doing to themselves or others. They have exhausted all insurance benefits and their child can no longer receive the mental health care they need. These are children with very serious mental health issues. The last available option for these children is to be institutionalized, but no parent wants to institutionalize their child. Shouldn’t these parents be given better options? Shouldn’t anyone with serious mental health issues have more options besides being institutionalized?
This may possibly be my longest post ever, but there are so many things to say about mental illness and I’m sure I still managed to leave out a lot. I think mental illness is something we need to talk about. It needs to be brought out in the open and the stigma and the shaming removed. We need open dialogue and discussion about what is wrong with the mental health system in this country and what we can do to fix it.