Relationships are needlessly severed between people dealing with psychiatric issues and the people who love them. Inaccurate perceptions and prejudices about mental illnesses persist, making it difficult for many to talk about what is really going on. In addition, misunderstandings, uncomfortable feelings, limited support systems and incorrect diagnoses make it tough for families and individuals to speak up and ask for help, even though mental diseases are treatable like physical ones.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” *The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in any given year, an estimated 13 million American adults (approximately 1 in 17) have a seriously debilitating mental illness. Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, accounting for 25 percent of all years of life lost to disability and premature mortality. Moreover, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for the deaths of approximately 30,000 Americans each year. *–Extracted from HealthyPeople.gov
With all the facts, people continue to treat mental illness like a taboo subject. Anyone growing up in our survival of the fittest society quickly learns to put on a brave face and “act as though” to fit in and compete. And if a person who is clinically depressed doesn’t, his or her behaviors may be misinterpreted as being lazy, seeking attention or apathetic. Unlike the symptoms of many physical diseases, the early signs of a mental illness aren’t as black and white and often go unchecked or noticed until the situation advances. However, neglected mental health issues do worsen and can cause death.
Not having the ability to speak about difficult emotional issues (mental disorders and otherwise) perpetuates a cycle of hosting environments where maladaptive coping skills, like an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance abuse, thrive. Sometimes one person in a family or group is blamed for the unrevealed issues of others. The “scapegoat” hides or preserves unhealthy domestic or social issues. Children growing up in environments like this don’t always develop addictions or eating disorders; however, since children are naturally sensitive and do not understand what empathy is, their home life promotes being overly responsible and feeling “bad” when not able to fix things, which is often carried into adulthood.
Finding support, therapy or a helpful group can be challenging when someone’s issues are already too embarrassing to talk about. To add salt to the wound, many affordable insurance plans don’t cover mental illness or have a shoddy plan in place unless premium rates are paid. Going out of pocket to have psychiatric evaluations administered costs thousands of dollars and when the results come back, clear findings aren’t guaranteed. Sometimes patients are told, “nothing abnormal was detected.” This is especially true when the medical professional is only looking at the dangers of the maladaptive coping skills and not considering the patient’s genetics, environment, the length of time the behaviors have been active, and to what degree the behaviors are being performed. Paradoxically, having the courage to seek professional help sometimes leaves families and individuals feeling baffled, angry and hopeless.
When we suppress our feelings or turn a cheek to serious issues affecting our health, we enable an atmosphere of distrust, shame and anger. Silver Linings Playbook and The Soloist are good films but do not realistically depict what mental illness looks like in real life. True accounts of psychiatric diseases are not near sexy enough to be in Hollywood. It’s okay to admit when you need help. Whether you’re an individual who no longer recognizes the person in the mirror, a scared parent or significant other who doesn’t know where to turn, or a patient with little hope, talking honestly to loved ones who you trust gets the ball rolling.