April 25, 2018

Is It Really Mental Illness?

A weblog is a good place for sharing random thoughts, and last night I had one such thought which I decided to write about here even though it's outside my usual purview.

Our society has become increasingly aware of mental health issues, and this is a wonderful thing. More and more people are willing to talk about mental illness, whether it be their own or that in the general population. There's a growing understanding that mental illness is not just all in your head, it's in your brain, and is a legitimate illness just the same as any other ailment of the body. There should be no shame or stigma attached, just as there isn't any when someone develops endometriosis or needs their gall bladder removed.

What I'm not hearing though is much talk about mental injury. If someone is hit by a baseball bat and has their arm broken, we don't call them ill, we call them injured. Furthermore, we treat them as injured - managing their pain, sympathising with them, not stigmatising them, and focussing on repairing the injury rather than reworking their bone and muscle structure as if it had an inherent weakness which caused them to be injured. And yet, when someone receives a mental or psychological injury from a crime or traumatic event, we call them mentally ill.

A person with post traumatic stress syndrome is considered seriously mentally ill, although the condition is an injury to their psychological and nervous systems which would not have come about unless they were in an injurous situation. Other mental illnesses like situational depression, anxiety disorder, etc, can also be the result of an injury (as well as being a biochemical illness residing in the genes) and recent research shows that a person can develop depression due to a psychological injury received by their mother or grandmother or even further back.)

Another term I see used is "mental disorder". I appreciate this is a clinical term, and that we see physical conditions described sometimes as disordered also. But when it comes to psychological matters it sounds like a stigmatising label - as if the sufferer is out of order, out of a normal and acceptable way of being, and somehow responsible for that.

If we were to talk more about mental injury when that is appropriate, perhaps it might open up a wider discussion about the violence of our society - not only the wars and assaults that rage around the globe, but political violence perpetrated on societies, media violence perpetrated on target audiences, violence in the school yard and home and on social media platforms. And we might develop modes of healing which offer more dignity to those who have suffered injury.

These are just random thoughts that rose out of the late night jumble of leftover story planning I'd been engaged in all afternoon. Take them or leave them as you will.