ARTICLES, HEALTHY LIVING & WELL BEING. EATING DISORDERS
Empathizing with Mental Illness
We treat physically ill people vastly different than we treat mentally ill individuals. They both have the same essence of mortality, suffering, doctor visits, medicinal remedies, etc., yet, it seems taboo in our culture to treat and react to both categories of illness separately rather than wholly. Often, psychological suffering can pass off as attention-seeking, made-up, or merely an emotion rather than what it is: an illness. There is rarely a question raised to the integrity of those diagnosed with cancer or other morbid diseases.
We should never question a person’s illness.
The thing is, mental illness is a disease of the brain. In a way, it is a cancer that can spread and is sometimes incurable. We learn to live with a cloud over our head with the knowledge that we need constant protection from its rain.
The physicality and mentality of the general term, illness, shows no boundaries, for each is intertwined amongst another. There are physical implications of having a mental illness and psychological implications of having a physical illness: both deteriorating the brain and body in such a way that ceases to produce comfort and happiness of those affected.
From a personal standpoint, I feel the need to bring attention to the perceived bias of treating mentally ill persons. We did not choose to have a mental illness, just like no person decided to “get” cancer. We are not seeking attention; we are seeking thought-relief. Mental illnesses do not have an “off” switch. We cannot “snap out of it” or “sleep it off”. But we try to anyway. The sounds of depression are just as severe as an individual in excruciating pain. The constant numbness of loss and trauma create a catatonic state where one feels as if he or she were paralyzed. The aches and pains of the physically ill are like the millions of self-hating, self-deprecating thoughts that run through one’s neurons at a rapid pace. The only difference between the physically ill versus the mentally ill is that the mentally ill are not scared to die – they are scared to live.
In no way do my generalizations apply to every single person diagnosed with a mental or physical illness, for each case and each individual is unique. I am merely speaking from personal experience and commonalities I have noticed with others’ struggles.
The stigma surrounding mental illness facilitates a lack of empathy in both the community and medicine, itself. Although there has been more emphasis on treating and understanding psychological disorders in recent years, there is still a disconnect when it comes to rationalizing that the severity of mentality is just as extreme and dire as would a physical illness become without treatment.
The pressure to exclaim how sick we are psychologically becomes this constant challenge to show (and develop) harsher, physical symptoms that are tied to a deeper issue. Those who are not sectioned under a mental health act, or have not been hooked up to intravenous fluid bags in an overly lit hospital are deemed “well enough” for society. A terminally ill patient, on the other hand, would never be kept in the hospital for a few days, just to be released back into the wild where its disease can further manifest itself without further care. With physical illnesses, there is “‘round-the-clock-care”, flowers, kind words, and social acceptance of the disease. With mental illness, we often find that we fall short to appropriate care and understanding.
There is no divide between mental and physical ailment. Just because one’s thoughts are reticent does not mean they are not hurting deeply. The sound of silence is just as deleterious as a malignant tumour. Empathizing with illness creates a safety for those afraid of falling. Treating both aspects of illness with the same degree of severity may aid in managing symptoms and reduce the need to “show” a mental illness.