"I wish people would treat mental health like they do physical illness". 

I hear that phrase often. I see why people are attracted to it. When they think of physical illness, they think of people who get sympathy for having a cast, or are helped to reach something on the top shelf if they're confined to a wheelchair. They think of doctors who can do an x-ray or a biopsy, locate the problem, and work to exterminate it. They think of the visibility of a physical illness versus the invisibility of a mental health issue. 

Let me twist things around a bit. What would you think if I said we already treat mental health like a physical illness? Does that feel weird? 

There are some differences. Yes, people can see a broken arm and not crippling depression, and people never sum up a Cancer lump to being "all in your head". 

However, if we take into account how interconnected your body and your brain are, if we take into account the fact that a positive mindset has a direct connection to helping someone survive cancer treatment, if we take into account that they are trying to create blood tests for depression, if we take into account that the first solution offered to you in psychiatry is a pill like Lithium for your mood swings just like a Valium is the first solution to the throbbing pain in your broken leg, than we see there are many similarities. 

In many ways we already treat mental health like physical illness. The question becomes: is that a good thing? Is that what we want?

Do we want the first solution to be a pill and the last solution be someone willing to listen? Do we want the first solution to be based solely on biochemistry when the biochemistry they base their findings on has never been replicated? 

How would you feel if I told you the "Chemical Imbalance" research that you hear so much about is 1) simply a theory (and a very, very broken one at that and 2) has hardly enough evidence to support it?

That's not to say many people aren't helped by medication. I myself have taken it, I've come off it, and I've thought about going on it again. Medication isn't a problem, it isn't some bad thing I'm going to waste my time bashing. What it is, however, is a way for all of us to avoid the fact that a mental health issue is different from a physical illness and needs to be treated as such. 

It's not a secret a mental health issue can cause a physical symptom or that a physical symptom (like hypothyroidism) can cause a mental health issue. 

But often that is not the case. Often someone is having a reaction to their environment. Often someone sees things and hears things and thinks about things differently and it's labeled "mentally ill". 

If you are in a hospital and are hearing voices telling you to grab a bottle of pills and kill yourself, their solution is a 15 minute consultation and medication. 

Where I work, if you are hearing voices telling you to grab a bottle of pills and kill yourself, we sit down with you. We talk with you. We'll drive you to the ocean and distract you from them. We'll cook dinner with you and we'll tell you something very powerful: you're okay, and you're going to make it. 

I witnessed this my first few days at my job. And I witnessed someone, after almost a week of being in hell, come down from the stairs smiling and the feelings of suicide had surpassed. 

That's not a cure. That's a connection. That's something you don't get when your first solution is "sedate, medicate, release". 

Hearing voices isn't like getting surgery. 

Depression isn't a broken leg. 

The swings of Bipolar disorder aren't like the ups and downs of Cancer and Remission. 

These things can't be treated as equals. I can't speak for all of us, but as someone studying in the psychiatric industry, as someone who works as a respite peer counselor, as someone who has mental health issues herself, I wouldn't want my mental health to be treated like a broken leg. I'm not broken. 

My mental health isn't something that can be pinpointed and exterminated. My mental health isn't a bone that can be mended with a medical cast. 

We don't want the general public to see us as something that can be fixed like a purely physical condition. We want them to see us as people who perhaps think differently, as people who still have something amazing to give back to society. 

We're all human. We're all varied. What's normal is what's normal to you. You can't fix what isn't broken. 

Published by Alishia Dauterive