It seems like there is a day or a month to make us aware of all sorts of things. May has been proclaimed Mental Health Awareness Month. If you have been following my blog or have known me for more than five minutes, you probably know that my husband has Bipolar Disorder. Thus, I am all to well aware of mental illness.
If you want to find out specifically about him, browse through old posts. If you want to find out more specifically about Bipolar, use Google or any search engine you prefer. Today I would like to talk about mental health in general terms and my observations about how people view it.
If you read my post about jury duty and you know my life with my husband, you may wonder why I didn’t find in favor of the plaintiff when she came to court seeking compensation for emotional damages. The fact of the matter is, she did not prove to us that she suffered unduly and the defendant’s actions did not fulfil the legal requirements to be made to pay.
Do I discount anxiety or emotional strain as being “in her head?” No. These are very real things. They are very real mental disorders and illnesses. I see my husband’s anxieties play out almost daily. I see other people struggle with anxiety. I have seen and known sleeplessness and felt my own stomach knot up with worry and fear. These things should be recognized by our legal system and by our society as very real illnesses just as a broken bone or diabetes are recognized as such.
One of the problems I see in our society, thus our legal and healthcare systems, is a refusal to believe that these are biological disorders. Even though mental illnesses respond to medications, many people would have us believe that someone can “snap out of it” or “just get over it.” Because of this attitude, people suffering from a real illness are reluctant to seek medical advice for it. Would you tell someone with a rash that won’t go away no matter how many over the counter creams and lotions they have applied to it, to “just get over it?” No! You would advise them to see a doctor.
As I have learned about my husband’s illness and my own postpartum depression, there are many pills available to help people through mental illnesses. There are many counselors out there to help people through stressful situations that arise from the illness or from an external situation.
My inclination is that the woman in the court case I watched play out last week is to believe that she had a situationally triggered illness of some sort. The problem was, she had been too reluctant to have it evaluated. To compare it to a cut, there was no way of knowing if this was a small scratch that healed easily or if this was a deep wound that would have required thirty stitches, or somewhere in between. What if our culture made it easier for her to see a counselor? Or even to just visit her primary care doctor for an evaluation? That case may have turned out much differently, especially since we don’t have any visible scars to indicate the level of anxiety she had experienced as we would an external flesh wound.
What can be done? I ask you, reader, to evaluate how you see mental illness. Do you believe that it is a physical illness affecting the brain? Or do you believe that it is something else? Do you believe that all people with mental illnesses are “crazy” and don’t deserve the time of day? What do you believe?
I believe that all people deserve to have their bodies cared for, whether it is their brain or their pancreas that is ailing them. When I encounter people in mental distress, I encourage them to seek counseling. When I encounter someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I don’t assume anything about how it affects them in their ability to function and work on a day-to-day basis. Every person is different. Every person deserves to be treated as a person with real feelings and real problems. No one deserves to be told, “Just get over it!” when it comes to their health.
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