I recently read various comments related to bipolar disorder that emphatically stated, “Bipolar disorder is not an illness. Stop calling it one!” I was struck the individual said he was in the medical profession for years and knew for certain mental illness simply did not exists, but was merely behavioral problems and not something based in science.
I became a bit curious about the definition of illness, trying to understand if in fact there was any merit to what he said.
The definition of “illness” is a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind. The last time I checked human anatomy the brain, in fact, is part of the body. How then can someone argue mental illness is not a sickness?
Around the globe mental illness is fighting against centuries old stigma. There are some places around the world who still practice exercism as a form of “treatment.” Some people are chained to trees for the remainder of their lives, watched over by priests who believe through spiritual healing they can heal the mentally ill.
While I believe faith can play apart of recovery, faith alone will not heal a mental illness anymore than cancer can be cured without some type of treatment. It is surprising to learn that there are people who hold on to these archaic and harmful beliefs that end up damaging people who have mental illness in mind, body and spirit.
Fortunately, in the United States we don’t chain people with mental illness to trees. But even in our “advanced” culture we still manage to blame the victims. Of course the media is to blame for perpetuating stereotypes. But also many high profile politicians can’t seem to discuss mental illness without talking about gun control. It seems that for every step forward we take two steps backwards in the fight against stigma.
The only way we will change stigma is through better education and more informed decision making. Our discourse must begin to include the reality of how our brains can get sick too.
Mental illness is not about being possessed by some evil spirit that needs exercised. It is far more about how the brains neurotransmitters have gone arrey. Scientists do have some understanding of how serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine impact moods and psychosis, but these facts seem to get buried in the munitia.
The only way to combat the age old stigma is to continue the conversations with more informed discussion. We owe it to our young people to move the dial beyond aged old stigma. It is not acceptable to continue perpetuating stereotypes, yet we do it every day.
Time has come to resist the notion that people who live with mental illness are less than those who do not. People may be surprised to learn that many of their colleagues and family members struggle everyday with a mental condition. The more we can talk about these illnesses the louder our voices will be heard. Until then, standing up to stigma will be something only a few will continue to fight.