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.

First and foremost, my condolences to those who lost a loved one in the latest mass shooting at Fort Hood.  Also, my sincerest hope for recovery for those injured.

I have read about a dozen articles about Ivan Lopez, the soldier who went on a shooting rampage and killed 4 and injured 16 at Ft. Hood.  They all claim that he was depressed and possibly had PTSD.  That he was on psychiatric medicines and whether it was explicit, that was the reason he turned and started shooting.

I’m no psychology or psychiatry expert.  But I am a veteran who suffers from depression, psychosis and PTSD.

I want to tell you that I know many other veterans with depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other psychiatric conditions.  We all agree that going on a mass shooting is not something we would do.  Most psych patients aren’t violent, especially when under treatment.  Even when my psychosis was untreated and the voices told me to hurt myself or others, I didn’t.

The big problem is the stigma in the military to seek treatment for mental illness.  It can lead to ending a military career, something most service members don’t want.  It can lead to harassment from peers and it is a scary process in general, because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

Not one article suggested that this type of violence is abnormal.  Not one article said it was a health epidemic within the armed forces, dealing with more suicides than war casualties in March.  They all furthered the stigma of mental illness by suggesting that this is the sort of thing mentally ill people do, which is not true.

Mental illness is illness, and a mental health epidemic means there is a health epidemic.  There is no difference between mental illness and any other illness.  Oh wait. Stigma.  I could have cancer and tell the world: I’d be automatically strong and brave, and everyone would be understanding, but God forbid I tell you I have depression…  I’m automatically weak and crazy, and lazy to not just snap out of it, when in reality there is a physical basis for it. 

PTSD is a real brain injury.  Depression and bipolar disorders are real chemical imbalances, no different than hormonal imbalances or a stroke.

I feel for Lopez and his final act.  But he does not represent the community of the mentally ill.