For some reason, mental health conditions come with an inherent stigma attached to them. Stigma means that disorders such as depression, anorexia or bi-polar are met with misunderstanding, discomfort and shame. People who don’t suffer from mental illness see those of us who do suffer as weak or less capable. For some, the stigma and subsequent isolation are worse than the illness itself.
The poor treatment of the mentally ill, while improving slowly, has a long history. Our ancestors in 5000 BC thought that mental illness was caused by demonic possession or the supernatural. They attempted to “purge” people of their illnesses by boring a hole in their heads it attempts of letting the “evil” out. Other so-called treatments throughout the years included exorcism, prayer and imprisonment.
The use of psychotherapy to treat mental disorders has only been recognized relatively recently. Within the last one hundred years or so, mental illness has been approached with more humane methods; including group therapy, behavioural therapy and medication. Despite this, society’s attitude toward the mentally ill remains anything but humane.
In schools, workplaces and social circles alike, people who are “different” are bullied. A reported 32 per cent of teens that committed suicide had a mood disorder and about 15 per cent had depression . What even more revealing is that those who are bullied are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses – making bullying and mental health inextricably linked.
Intervention is of paramount importance – both with respect to the bully and the mentally ill. Preventing bullying could, in theory, prevent some incidents of suicide and perhaps even reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety. Treating a bully’s mental health issues could also prevent further incidents of bullying and break the cycle.
Intervention is only the tip of the iceberg though. Acceptance and tolerance of mental illness is even more pressing of an issue. When mental illness is less stigmatized, we no longer suffer in silence. We can speak of our fears and pain openly – the same way we are encouraged to do when we are diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis. If we are able to speak openly of our pain, we realize that we are not alone, and can find comfort in a sense of camaraderie.
In Australia, an astounding 45% of adults have experienced mental illness at some point in their lives . Anxiety, depression, substance abuse and personality disorders affect everything in your life from your job productivity to your relationships. Mental illness costs Australians $20 billion per year . What’s most concerning about these figures is that the majority of these sufferers will not seek help due to the stigma associated with their condition.
Treatment for the mentally ill is available in a variety of forms. The first step is always to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Counselling, group therapy and medication are typical routes for treatment. Your doctor may also suggest dietary changes and the incorporation of meditation and exercise into your daily routine.
Help for the mentally ill is therefore everyone’s responsibility. Medical professionals can only do their jobs if they are aware of the issue. Acceptance, understanding and tolerance must come from you and me.
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