People seem to misunderstand mental illness. Unsurprisingly, they also seem to misunderstand the people behind the illness. We all tend to fear things that we don’t or can’t understand. Thus, those suffering from mental illness unnecessarily become the victims of abuse, ridicule, and isolation by strangers and loved ones alike.

Statistics have shown that people with mental illness are more often on the receiving end of physical harm by others than the ones causing the harm. This fact has always disturbed me. Having spent a significant amount of time in close contact with psychiatric patients in the hospital I volunteer at, I know first hand that people with mental illness are just like everyone else. In my experience, I have actually found them to be profoundly more real and kind hearted.

You wouldn’t treat someone with Parkinson’s or Cancer like they don’t have a right to be in pain. You wouldn’t be afraid of these patients just because of their disease. So what’s the difference? Where does the line get drawn in a person’s mind that installs a trigger to be cruel and judgemental?

Many people treat mental and physical illness as two completely different things. The latter traditionally being observed as the more “deserved” for sympathy and compassion’s sake. But – is the brain not part of the physical body?

Yes, I don’t believe mental and physical illness to be different entities at all. They both originate in a physical place, both have symptoms, both can cause death, and both can be maintained at least in part by medication.

Take Parkinson’s vs Schizophrenia for example. Research has shown that Parkinson’s is  largely due to the deterioration of a section of the brainstem called the Substantia Nigra. This diminishment of cells results in a severe decrease in dopaminergic activity. This decrease in dopamine causes the slow shuffled gait, tremors, and other symptoms Parkinson’s patients suffer from every day. Schizophrenia on the other hand, has been found to be due to a significant increase in dopaminergic activity (as well as other neurotransmitters). The increase in dopamine causes the positive and negative affect symptoms that are the signatures of Schizophrenia. (See footnotes for an explanation on positive and negative affect. No – positive does not mean good or better in this case)

We all know that Cancer kills. And we hate Cancer for it. It’s taken loved ones, its taken icons; Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But neither does Clinical Depression. Close to 1 in 5 people suffering from Clinical Depression die by suicide. And according to the Canadian Cancer Society 1 in 4 Canadians are expected to die from Cancer.

Now, i’m not equating illness severities. There are varying degrees of all types of illnesses, physical and mental alike. The goal of this particular piece of writing was simply to show you, all of you, that everyone deserves the same amount of compassion. That you can’t just get over cancer, and you can’t just get over depression. That people with mental illness are no more frightening or violent than people with physical illness.

If we all took a second to educate ourselves, our friends and our loved ones, we may find peace in understanding that mental and physical illness are no two different things. People suffering are people suffering, no if’s and’s or but’s. They deserve our compassion and love, not our cruelty and judgement.

Neither physical illness nor mental illness are a choice. No one wakes up one day and says “i’d like to have Depression today” or “please oh please give me Parkinson’s”. 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. 2 in 5 people will develop some type of cancer and every person on earth will get sick in some way in their lifetime.

Today I urge you to actively learn a little more about mental health and mental illness, and  challenge you with this: The next time you meet someone suffering from a mental illness, get to know THEM. An illness does not define a person, and underneath that illness is a human heart just dying to be known and loved.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

-A

Footnotes: Positive Affect Schizophrenia: Delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech or behaviour — Negative Affect Schizophrenia: Loss of interest in every day activities, apathy, difficulty experiencing pleasure 

References:

          Association, A. P. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

          Association, C. M. H. (2016, July 25). Home page – Canadian mental health association. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.cmha.ca

          Canadian Cancer Society. (2016). Canadian Cancer Society. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.cancer.ca/en/?region=on

          Kolb, B., & Whishaw, I. Q. (2015). Fundamentals of human Neuropsychology (7th ed.). United States: Worth Publishers Inc.,U.S.

          Pinel, J. P. J. (2002). Biopsychology (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.

Published by Alexandra Besoi