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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Coming To Terms With Mental Illness

Illness is inevitable. The human body does not always work as it should, and sometimes we need to use medication and physical therapy to get it back on track. Obviously, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, when it comes to mental illness, many people do not see it that way. Instead, they consider it a problem with who they are as a person. People who suffer from anxiety tend to blame themselves. If only they were stronger. The same is true of depression. They should be able to snap out of it. With more complex mental illnesses and personality disorders, the self-judgment only gets deeper.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that most societies do not really understand mental illness. They tend to see it as a weakness of will, rather than an actual disease. To those who haven’t experienced mental illness, “snap out of it” might seem like good advice. The second reason is that self-judgment is a symptom of most mental illnesses. When one is feeling anxious, hopeless, despairing, it is hard to see oneself from an objective perspective. We see ourselves as weak because the illness affects our thought patterns and feelings.

    Getting Help is Hard

    If you see yourself as the cause of your own suffering, it becomes difficult to ask for help. Asking for help seems like an admission of weakness. But the truth is that no one can overcome mental illness by themselves. Certain illnesses cannot be managed without medication. And choosing to just “be strong” is impossible when there is an illness dragging you down.

    Unfortunately, many millions of people suffering from mental illness never ask for help. This is especially true for men, who see it as a breakdown of their masculinity. Depression is reported four times more by women than men, but suicide rates are double for men than they are for women.

    I am well aware that someone who sees mental illness as a moral weakness needs more than gentle encouragement to ask for help.

    As such, here are some ideas as to how to come to terms with mental illness, whether your own or that of a loved one.

    It IS a Disease

    First and foremost, it is crucial to acknowledge that mental illness is no less real than so-called physical illness. For a start, it has a strong physical component. Chemicals play a part in balancing one’s mood.

    Furthermore, it is also rooted in unhealthy thought patterns and broken down defense mechanisms. Changing the way you think is far more difficult than taking antibiotics for the flu.

    Telling yourself to “get over it,” “snap out of it,” or “stop being so weak,” is like telling someone with a virus that it’s their fault their immune system is weak.

    Seeing it as a disease makes it a lot easier to ask for help. It proves that you cannot go it alone and that it is definitely not your fault.

    Trust In The Treatment

    Another difficulty many people grappling with mental illness face is a stubborn belief that it cannot be treated. Your thought patterns tell you that the way you see the world is accurate. It appears as if there are no answers to your existential questions, and there seems to be no reason to go on living.

    Until you have started treatment, these thoughts will remain. It is therefore imperative that you realize one crucial fact: others have been where you are and have come through it. They too believed that there was no way to solve their problems. Now, however, they are happier than ever, living a meaningful life and managing what challenges remain with medication, therapy, and a balanced way of life.

    Mental illness is very treatable. A symptom of the illness is the belief that nothing will help. The best way to counter that belief is by acknowledging that others have been there too, and have made full recoveries.

    You Will Emerge More In Tune

    I talked about making a full recovery, but it goes further than that.

    We live in a world in which meaning and fulfillment are pushed to the background while making a living and saving for retirement is treated as the main priority. Sadly, many people live their lives unaware of what they really want, going with the flow and not stopping to assess what life means to them.

    When you struggle with a mental illness, meaning and fulfillment become front and center. In order to treat the illness, you're going to have to grapple with what you want out of life. You will have to delve into who you are, better understanding your identity, building a strong sense of self.

    This is why many people who have suffered and recovered from mental illness see the illness as a blessing. At the time, it may have seemed unbearable, but in hindsight, it forced them to confront what really mattered.

    I am by no means downplaying the struggle of mental illness. It can cause excruciating pain and is one of the biggest killers in modern society. However, it also provides an opportunity. In order to recover, you are going to have to become more in tune than you were before, with more self-awareness than you would otherwise have developed.

    Stronger Relationships

    Finally, not only will treatment help you find your ideal self, but it will also help you strengthen your relationships. People suffering from mental illness are generally highly sensitive. With techniques and strategies to manage their thoughts and emotions, they can access that sensitivity in a healthy way. They make for excellent friends because they have deep wells of empathy.

    Mental illness is still not understood by many sections of society. Unfortunately, this leads to people suffering from a real disease choosing not to get help. By understanding the illness better, sufferers can begin to see that their suffering is real and can be treated. They can come out of it living a more balanced life than before, with stronger relationships and a great sense of self.

    Author: Dr Nancy Irwin

    Dr Nancy Irwin is the co-author of "Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery" and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.

    That's all for today!
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