The Stigma around Mental Illness

There’s a lot of stigma around mental illness.  Society stigmatizes mental illness a lot.  Whether it is because society in general thinks that it is a matter of “only trying harder”, “he/she is making it up”, “he/she is weak”, or what-have-you, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around.

People with mental illness are any more crazy or violent than the “rest” of the population.  This is just stigma that has been perpetuated by Hollywood and what-not.

I am here to tell you:  Mental Illness is real, as real as cancer or diabetes, and recent studies point towards this direction.  It is not cured by “trying harder”, just like cancer doesn’t go away by trying harder.  Mental illness is not something that we sufferers make up.  It is as real as a doorknob and as dark as a starless night.  Also, it is not a sign of weakness as much as having cancer isn’t a sign of weakness.

Mental Illness and Religion.

However, among some christian circles, mental illness is deemed a “demonic possession”.   And while demonic possessions are very real and in many cases similar to mental illness, there are clear distinctions between demonic possession and mental illness.  I am not qualified to make these distinctions, but This Article from CNN explains some differences (TL,DR; This psychiatrist can’t explain certain things that have happened during exorcisms that just don’t happen with mentally ill patients.)

So, please, please, I don’t know how to start this “campaign”, but don’t equate mental illness to demonic possession – let a qualified priest or doctor make the distinction.  Don’t equate mental illness as a sign of not wanting to be healthy enough or some sort of weakness, because it is not.  Let’s stop spreading misinformation, and care for one another regardless of illness experienced.

Religion and Mental Health

When religion is important to the person suffering mental illness, religion can be a great step in the right direction.  I practice my religion and use it as part of self-care.

Depression kills.  It doesn’t kill the same way terminal cancer or diabetes complications do, but it kills.  It kills in the weirdest of ways:  by twisting your mind in such a way that killing yourself makes a lot of sense.  I am no psychiatry or psychology expert, but I have been dealing with diagnosed major depressive disorder for the better part of 9 years.

I originally wasn’t going to post about the suicide of Chester Bennington, just like I chose not to post about the suicide of Chris Cornell, but given the grief this has caused in my Facebook newsfeed, I am taking the opportunity to educate and destigmatize.

I am no expert in 90s music, either, but I did grow up in the 90s.  I am aware of all the articles out there outlining how the music of the 90s is undoubtedly the most depressing.  And it is alarming, to a great degree, as depression rates in the USA have skyrocketed (especially in the generation that grew up in the 90s).  It is very alarming, that, for the first time since the 1930s, life expectancy in the USA is shorter (largely in part to suicide).  It is also worth noting, that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the USA.

Major depression is a mental illness.  A mental illness is an illness like any other:  cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, to name a few.  I won’t go into all the details of how the brain changes with depression and other mental illnesses, but suffice it to say that a picture of a brain with depression is very different from that of a healthy brain.  Mental illness is not your fault, just like cancer, multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy aren’t your fault.

Another disease that very commonly co-occurs with mental illness is substance dependence, be it alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs.  When substance dependence is present with mental illness, it makes treating one or the other a little more challenging, especially when the substance in question is a mind-altering substance.  (Substance dependence may also make psychiatric medications be less effective.)

From what I understand, Chester Bennington suffered from both mental illness and substance abuse.  Two illnesses that can distort your thoughts.  Another aggravation is that when a loved one commits suicide, the likelihood of suicide increases.  (It is known that children of parents who have committed suicide are way more likely to commit suicide, and so on.)

I don’t claim to know what was going on in Bennington’s mind, but he suffered from depression, substance abuse, and his friend Chris Cornell took his own life.  Reportedly, Bennington killed himself on Chris Cornell’s birthday.  Perhaps he spiraled down on a substance fueled depression missing his friend that led him to kill himself?  We might never know.  Perhaps he was isolated from his community of people that made him feel valuable and worthy.

Another thing that has popped up in my newsfeed, which I think is important to deal with, is the possibility of their influences by Satanic rites and other religious/spiritual practices that may be of demonic nature.  Fr. Amorth, a leading exorcist from the Vatican, had said in the past that sometimes, differentiating between mental illness and demonic possession is very hard, but demonic possession is not as common as mental illness.  I don’t know Bennington’s or Cornell’s dabblings in demonic practices.  It is very dangerous and stigmatizing to claim that severe mental illness is of demonic nature.

What is for sure is that Cornell and Bennington carved their way into their fans’ hearts, and will be sorely missed.  It is very sad that they have succumbed to their illnesses, months apart from each other, especially when effective treatment is available.

May they both rest in peace.

If you’re struggling with depression, please seek medical help.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Also, if you’re struggling with substance abuse, seek medical help.  If you’re in the USA and are in emotional crisis, call the crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7.