Do You Have Mental Illness?


“I am very cancerous about toxic relationships.”

“I am very diabetic about humour.”

“I am a heart attack when it comes to assignments.”

These sentences seem inane, and strangely constructed. All of them are based on physical, acceptable diseases, which do not carry any stigma. One only needs to replace them with mental illness-related phrases, to get the real picture they draw.

“I am very OCD about cleanliness.”

“I am very schizo about art.”

“Depression fuels my creativity.”

These sentences are far more acceptable and commonly heard than the previous ones. The fact of the matter is that mental illnesses do not qualify as illnesses; they are reduced to the status of ‘symptoms’ of something else, or to anti-status quoist tendencies. In other words, it is ‘cool’ to be depressed. A little anxiety before an important event is a good thing. Schizophrenia is always a sign of genius. These disorders are not maladaptive; they are aspired to because they make one unique. This practice of misappropriating mental illnesses without understanding their gravity, or being unaware of the sheer emotional, physical and cognitive strength it takes to deal with, work around, negotiate with or find a solution for psychological disorders, makes them even more insignificant. When a lot of celebrities spoke about their depression to remove the stigma attached to psychological disorders, the positive trend also had an inverse effect—mental illness became a trendy thing to have. Lack of research into the issue helped many of us adopt a garb of tolerance, especially observed in the satirical video about depression created by AIB. Everyone has a cure for depression, from exercise to watching films to visiting Babas, depression is an easily solvable problem—everyone gets depressed the same way. What we fail to realize is that we always generalize disease—physical ailments as well, but mostly mental ones.

Diseases like cancer or tuberculosis manifest in different ways in different bodies, but the root cause is objectively determined, carefully observed, and clearly defined. In other words, the core of treatment is secured along with a margin for error and unique properties, but the common understanding of the disease remains the same. However, doctors and scientists have discovered variants of illnesses that had not been fathomed before. Fitting the complexity of the human body into a water-tight, ostensibly unchanging compartment, thus turns about to be a poor strategy in the medical profession. This is more so in the case of mental illnesses. The human mind is a highly subjective existence marked by individual differences, influenced by socio-cultural factors, affected by physical surroundings and so on. Many lenses of psychology emerged in response to the behaviourist school’s understanding of psychological processes being constituted by observable, measurable, and definable human stimulus-response associations. This essentially means that social sciences, and psychology in particular, accord immense importance to the changeable nature of human psychological processes and thus pave the way for multiple approaches to dealing with mental illness—psychoanalytic, behaviourist, humanist, cognitive, biological (which fuels psychiatry, and explanations of abnormal behaviour as neurological changes, for example), evolutionary etc. Since every individual experiences mental illness differently, any of these approaches or a combination of approaches might work to make his/her behaviour less maladaptive. Specialising in these different approaches affirms that there is no one way to solve mental illness, and that common sense solutions may work towards the detriment of the problem. Treating the concept of mental illness as fragile, or glorifying it, distracts us from the issue at hand, which is that the patient needs therapy and/or medicine (depending on the diagnosis and the patients’/patients’ family’s decision). After all, we do not advise TB patients to visit Babas for the miraculous cure of their diseases.

The focus on misusing terms like OCD, or depression is not that of political correctness. It is an emphasis on respect and understanding for the amount of courage it takes to combat or come to terms with illness, both physical and mental. Clearing the first stage of talking about a tabooed topic is commendable. But, the next step is sensitivity. Without falling into the traps of pity, or sympathy, since feeling ‘for’ rather than ‘with’ a person with mental illness would detach one from their problem further, behaviours based on kindness and support go a long way. Actively listening and being honest about what you feel instead of tiptoeing around egg-shells might help. Mental illness is not tragic beauty sprawled on a pedestal; it is a grim reality many of us deal with but only few understand.

– Contributed by Tript

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