Facing Our Demons
(c) 2017 Linda M. Rhinehart Neas
We humans are a strange lot when it comes to what we will and won't talk about to others. We will share the most intimate details of our lives. We will discuss STD's without so much as a blush. We will even openly talk and joke about vaginal dryness and penile dysfunction! But, if someone dares mention mental illness, shades are drawn, voices drop to a whisper and denial takes center stage. Why?
I'm not a doctor or researcher; however, after observing humankind for over sixty years, I have my opinion. I believe it all has to do with control. Let me elaborate.
When someone suffers from mental illness, you often hear people say that he or she "is not in control" of his or her senses. In ancient times, people believed that the person with mental illness was possessed by demons. They would be ostracized, cast out of the community, and even killed out of fear that the possession could spread.
As humanity became more aware of science, the workings of the brain and medicine, the belief that mental illness could be controlled by isolation, electric shock and delving into childhood memories came to be. While in some cases, this appeared to work, for many sufferers, these often-times barbaric treatments only cause more trauma and suffering.
Today, scientific research has discovered many of the wonders of the brain - how different hormones are released at different times and the effect these hormones have on our outlook; how the synapsis of the brain create electrical charges that fire up various areas; and how our experiences trigger the stimulation of certain parts of the brain, while ignoring others. We know that brain works like a muscle that must be used, or it will stop functioning.
If we are honest, mental illness exists in every family in one form or another. Mental illness encompasses everything from mild personality disorders to full blown psychosis. These conditions are an illness, not a possession or a defect that should be hidden. Much like the fear, years ago, of people learning a person had cancer, the fear of mental illness exists because we hide it. If we can talk about lumpy breasts and shriveled penises, we can talk about mental illness!
Of course, we need to first know what falls under this umbrella term - mental illness. The list is long and can come as a shock to some. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) names the types along with symptoms, treatment and other helpful information on their website.
The bottom line is this: we need to come into the 21st century and leave the Dark Ages behind with regard to mental illness. While some conditions cannot be cured, they can be understood. Knowledge - sound knowledge - helps us to control our fear. (For example, a dear friend who suffered from ADHD found peace from reading, So, You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy, which his doctor gave him.) Treatments can make symptoms lessen and/or dissipate if used as the doctor prescribes. Most conditions are chronic, and treatment must be tweaked from time to time. One thing is clear. When we have dedicated support systems, when we adhere to treatment and when we are honest with ourselves, mental illness is no longer a demon to be feared.
If you, or someone you love suffers from mental illness, seek medical assistance. Do not let fear control your life. For immediate help, go to: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help or call 911.
For further reading on mental illness go to:
Mental Health America