Guest post by Julie Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network
“Mental (thought) and the physical (brain chemistry) are more than connected, they are differing aspects of the larger whole, penetrating and overlapping one another.” “Our thoughts reside in the brain and the brain lives in the body. It’s affected by what we eat, how we spend our time, and our overall health.”
So often, though, we think of mental illness as an immutable thing. We think of it as biological, genetic, solely having to do with brain chemistry and many times people who don’t have a diagnosis think of it as “other.” The truth is, whether or not you have a diagnosis, statistics indicate that more people have some sort of mental illness, disorder or affliction, than don’t, according to the World Health Organization.
I come from a long family history of mental illness. I’ve discovered that the people I know or have known, that have a diagnosis, are incredibly gifted in a particular way, or a multitude of ways. They are super smart, creative, complex, compassionate, and/or unusually talented. It’s strange to realize that even if a person doesn’t have a diagnosis, they may have some sort of mental health condition. Addictions and addictive behaviors are usually directly associated with mental illness, only for many of the people afflicted with addiction, they have no awareness or insight about the vulnerable state of their mental health until they’ve been using for years, and they may have been using, because of the state of their mental health.
These days, with the media often depicting crimes as being committed by a person having “mental illness,” which is so broad a term it doesn’t really say anything meaningful, it is more critical than ever for us to learn more about what mental illness is, and maybe even re-name it so that it doesn’t conjure such immutable imagery in our own minds. Like any social construct we develop through language, the more knowledge we have about something, the better our chances are in transforming and transcending it.
I can hardly write this article without thinking about how little we know about mental health, in general, and the many different labels that the medical community has for different disorders or states of being. Even among those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) there are many varying beliefs about the different disorders and what specific details define or characterize them. Clinicians who abide by this manual, are perpetually analyzing and assessing the exactitude of it, continuously deepening their knowledge to serve the best interests of their patients.
The origin of the word mad, (the root of madness), is change. It would be great to change the way people think about mental health. May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, is one step towards that change. Most of us fear things we don’t know or understand, so finding out even a little more about a topic can help alleviate fear.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by mental health. I used to love it when my teachers in grade school assigned some book or other that had mental illness at its center. Some of my favorite books growing up were about the interior of someone’s mind, like, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bell Jar and Sybil. Maybe the books were compelled reading in school because they wanted us to see there are all different kinds of minds. Perhaps those teachers were evolved enough to know that reading these stories might help us better understand the differences between brain chemistry and clinical depression, versus situational depression, huge factors in how we experience mental health. Though many of the depictions in these books illustrated tormented characters, I have vivid memories about the brave fights these characters fought. These stories helped me to see how critical it is to identify what ails us, the value of investigating it with courage, and finally, the transformation that can happen when we work hard with gifted clinicians, mentors or guides, in our corner.
I think my teachers in grade school were onto something. “The invisible line between the mind and body is imaginary.” We can draw it in permanent ink, solidifying its divisiveness, or create fluidity around it, so we can illuminate our awareness of mental health and discover meaningful ways to strengthen our collective mental health, and not only support the people we love who have a diagnosis, but also to better understand ourselves.