Out of Your Head
When you have a broken leg you’re given a cast. When you have an ear infection you’re given a pill. No one questions it, no one says that you’ll get over it without the help of the medication you’ve been provided with. So why is that any different from mental illness? “It’s all in your head!” Yes, that’s right, it’s all in the head. In patients with depression, there is a lack of serotonin, “a natural substance in the brain that helps in the brain that helps maintain mental balance” in a person and many medications such as, Fluoxetine or more commonly known as Prozac, increases the amount of serotonin that helps keep moods under control. Though the medication is still just as effective as, say a medication to cure period cramps such as Midol, it does take a while to kick in because a neuro sickness is much more intense and since it’s located in the brain, it could take the brain longer to adjust to the new way thoughts are being processed.
The stigma surrounding mental illness and medication stands in the way of proper mental health care. People without mental illness, those who support the stigma, are those who tell the mentally ill that it’s all in their head and that they are going to get over it eventually. Would you say the same thing to someone with diabetes? Most likely not because diabetes is a serious disease. “But it can be medically proven!” Yes, and so can mental disorders. According to Natasha Tracy in Biological Evidence for Depression – Mental Illness Exists, it is proven consistently that genetic factors are the reason for 30%-40% of cases of Major Depressive Disorder. Meanwhile the other 60%-70% is due to stressors in life. There’s also a hormone called cortisol that is linked to stress. Normally, once the stress has passed the cortisol decreases, though for those suffering from depression, their cortisol levels remain permanently elevated. This hormone can be measured in saliva. It repeatedly proves to be a major source of Major Depressive Disorder.
It has been known for people to compare mental illness to a physical injury when the stigma is presented. Stigma holders say things such as, “A broken leg shows up on an x-ray! Depression doesn’t!” Actually, yes it does. Neuroimaging of Depression proves that “structural abnormalities and decreased brain volumes have consistently been found in several areas of the brain of those with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Though brain volumes in patients with untreated depression shrinks with length of the illness, the loss cannot be explained. It can be stopped or reversed with treatment. Even though these brain abnormalities found in neuroimaging can decrease, that doesn’t mean that the patient is cured. A group of neurotransmitters called Monoamines have been studied and its counterparts (Serotonin, Dopamine, and Noradrenaline) have proven to increase the concentration of monoamines and been found to have antidepressant effects. Although there is research that supports the claim that dopamine levels are always low in depressive individuals. However, there are new antidepressants which are promising in “hard-to-treat depression.”
Let’s get technical here. What are antidepressants exactly? They are a medication used to treat depression, obviously. However, they are also used to treat anxiety, pain, insomnia, and, though not FDA-approved, they are used to treat ADHD in some adults. Everyone can respond differently to the medication, so testing out different ones is what some people do before finding the right medication that doesn’t make them want to die. These reasons aren’t known yet. Then as for other disorders they have their own medications. Anti-anxiety medications help with symptoms such as panic attacks and extreme fear or worry, and are commonly known as benzodiazepines. They’re known as secondary treatments when, in the case of panic attacks or social anxiety disorder, SSRIs and antidepressants come first to them. Next is stimulants to increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, mostly prescribed to treat patients diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). More heavily advanced drugs are the antipsychotics, mainly used to treat psychosis, loss of touch with reality, hallucinations, or delusions. They can be used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, and can be combined with other medications to treat delirium, dementia, ADHD, severe depression, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD, and generalized anxiety disorder. And finally we have mood stabilizers to treat bipolar disorder and mood swings associated with other disorders. One stabilizer, lithium, is approved to treat mania, and studies have shown for lithium to have anti-suicide benefits. They can also healthily treat depression, schizoaffective disorder, disorders of impulse control, and certain childhood mental illnesses. As you can see, there is a lot of eclectic medication used to treat mental disorders, most of which are proven to be extremely effective.
Medication in mental illnesses can mean so much more than just medicine to stop the sadness, or the voices, or the panic, etc. It’s something necessary for those mentally ill people to get through their days. Without their medication, it can be hard for some of those to get out of bed in the morning, not to mention getting in their car and driving to school and/or work. Years without medication can lead to self-harm, damaging thoughts, suicidal thoughts, and the destruction of relationships with others. Medication can also be therapy. A specific disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, can only be treated by DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, therapy since no medication has been discovered yet. Medication also means drugs. Not drugs like mushrooms, but marijuana is a great medication for anxious and depressive patients. But unfortunately people hear the word “medication” and their mind goes to “drugs” which, because of stigma, leads to negative thoughts about the person taking the medication. That’s not true though, because the definition of a drug is “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced to the body. The stigma against drugs is that they are all awful and should be avoided at all costs. This is really only to drugs like mushrooms, heroin, acid, etc. Further on, this disproves that medication is a bad thing, and proves that it can be helpful to those who need it, who desperately need it.
There are a lot of instances in the United States where mental health issues fall into the hands of young teenagers who have no idea how to handle the situation. The most common mental disorders found in teens are Depression, Social Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder. A teenager with any of these disorders left untreated can lead to something more extreme such as self-harm which then leads to an addiction of self-mutilation. Since these are still children who are dealing with these issues, parents come into the picture in a large part, and there is a chance that if kids feel that if their parents were to find out they were harming themselves, their parents would go on a tangent about it. In fear of being scolded and not getting the help they need, the teenager hides their illness and puts on a façade that they are happy, when in reality their life is getting so difficult to deal with that they are considering ending it themselves.
It’s no secret that the stigma on mental health goes back to the time when most millennials parents were born. During the nineteen sixties, seventies, eighties even, mental health wasn’t as engraved in society as it is today. The new generation these days are exposed to far more than their parents were because of the internet and because of this, kids from the tender age of ten and older are exposed to an endless array information to search. This can be both positive and negative. The positive attributes of the way teens can find information is that they can learn about mental illness, find out whether to question if they have it or not, converse with others who have the same illness, and learn ways to cope with it. The negative effects through is that they are able to find ways to hurt themselves. They can find horror stories of parents punishing their children for their self-harming behavior, or even parents adding fuel to the fire and dismissing their child’s illness instead of assisting them in getting the help they need. Doing this both feeds into the stigma on mental health, and worsens the patients disorder.
Addiction plays a large part in mental illness. If the illness is left untreated, people will go to extreme measures to find a way to stop the symptoms themselves. In younger patients, the most common addiction becomes the addiction of self-harm which can be carried out by cutting, burning, or even breaking their own bones. Others become either drug addicts, alcoholics, or even nymphomaniacs. They will take anything to numb the pain they are feeling, or anything to make them feel like they are alive, and not being taken over and controlled by this illness bouncing around in their heads. This kind of behavior can be seen as reckless and irresponsible, which is what most of society would say about someone who abuses these resources, rather than stopping and thinking, “Maybe this person needs help.” Not only does the stigma lead to addiction, but it can also create self-stigmatizing. This is when the patient starts to question whether they have the disorder themselves and discrediting their disorder, which is dangerous.
Let’s say a young teenage girl has been dealing with a lot of issues due to her sexuality. She gets scared, she thinks of what her friends and family have said about the subject over the years, and she decides to stay in the closet. Doing so, she grows depressed, she grows anxious. Then at school she gets bullied physically and emotionally after being outed by a boy who just wanted to have a laugh. This takes a toll on her. She loses friends, and herself, becoming scared and feeling alone. She begins to take a blade to her skin and she doesn’t tell anyone because she doesn’t think her condition is serious enough, though it is growing more serious each and every day. She talks to her friends about it but they dismiss it. The internet is making her think she’s faking her symptoms so she sits back and tells herself that she’ll get over it on her own. She tries to take her own life when they don’t. After that she’s placed in the Adolescent Mental Health Unit for a week and gets diagnosed with depression and for once she feels validated by someone and is getting the help she needs. Though it took way too long to get there.
That is exactly what the stigma is doing. If she could have been honest about what was going on in her head in the first place without a fear of judgement or ridicule, she would have gotten the right help she needed before the self-mutilation or suicide attempt to have someone take her seriously. It should not take someone coming close to taking their own life to get the proper help they need. Not all people with depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADHD, etc. want to kill themselves, no but eventually some of them do. This stigma causes death. And it has to be stopped so the patients without doctors can get the doctors they need, the medication they need, the help they need. The mental health movement needs to go forwards, not backwards.
“It’s all in your head,” isn’t as false as a statement as some people make it out to be. There’s an unprecedented number of people in this world who have been made to believe that mental illness is not an actual “sickness.” These people contribute to the stigma, either making it hard for people to get help (if they are a politician), or they make mentally ill people ashamed or afraid to get help. The most commonly used arguments are the following: Depression is just extreme sadness, anxiety is just a nervous habit, and bipolar disorder is crazy mood swings. In Thomas Szasz’ writing, “The Myth of Mental Illness 101” he says that “illness refers to a bodily lesion, that is, to a material – structural or functional – abnormality of the body, as a machine.” Meanwhile, the definition of illness is “a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.” An illness does affect the mind, proving mental illness to be an actual illness. The brain is an organ that works like the rest of the body’s organs, so why should mental illness not be classified as an illness?
Mentalism. Otherwise known as sanism, is a form of discrimination because of a mental condition a person has. Phrases such as, “How can there be something to discriminate if mental illness is all in one’s head?” or “People don’t get discriminated for mental illness, that’s bull.” Discrimination can come in many forms, some not as prominent as others. The definition of Discrimination is, “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things.” Let’s say that there’s a person who had just been discharged from an inpatient facility where they’d been living, working on themselves for the past month. Random people walking along the street know what the building is, and they stare at the former patient. They take their children and direct them other way, they eye the person and their minds go, “this person is crazy.” No, they are not crazy, they just spent a month trying to rehabilitate themselves and find new ways to cope with the issues that life has handed to them. They did not ask for this illness to be served to them like a steak at a steak house, but here they are. Diagnosed and living with this illness that has the potential to kill them. No one discriminates cancer patients for having cancer. It’s something they can’t control, same as mental illness, which is lost in the minds of neuro-typical people.
In an article named, “I Don’t Believe in Mental Illness, Do You?” Michael Cornwall argues that mental illness is not an illness, but it is madness. Cornwall says he sees people with “mental illness” as “a person who may have various experiences of human emotional suffering which sometimes takes the form of madness.” He makes a strong argument about how “our culture and world is rife with polarizing beliefs,” and goes into detail about how a leader of a peer recovery group had said that full recovery was achievable, so another peer called him a Nazi. He then feared that if a mad person were to hear this, they would believe another holocaust is in the works, and that they would contribute to that. He’s basically saying that a mad person would be triggered by a small event such as that above, and their madness would spiral. Madness used to mean mental illness, yes, but there’s some kind of demeaning meaning behind the word now when referred to that. Ask anyone with a mental illness if they’re “mad” their response would most likely be something along the lines of, “Yes, I’m mad because you asked that question. And no, because I just have a disorder.” Mostly it’s been the entertainment industry that’s responsible for turning madness into a demeaning term. Usually writers or directors instruct the killer in the movie to be considered mad. The Joker, Freddy Kruger, Mike Meyers. All characters that have the potential to be mad. But that’s not the case with the majority of the mentally ill population.
Society has created this so-called stigma against mental illness. The sad fact is that the neuro-typical population believe there cannot be a stigma since mental illness does not exist. Though it does exist. The definition of stigma is, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” An example of marks of disgrace against mentally ill people is the fact that they are called crazy, unstable, violent, mad, dangerous, or insane. Those kind of words can tear a mentally ill person down more which contributes to their illness, making it even harder for them to find ways to feel better about themselves. It is very hard for people with mental illness to keep jobs. For people with depression, they struggle getting out of bed. Sure, the people are medicated but the medication for mental illness is often slept upon and is very hard for those who need to be treated to get. And even with the medication, the symptoms are not completely gone. It takes years of therapy to get to the point where someone can finally feel okay again, or even well enough to get out of bed. Some stigma’s against the illness is that everyone has these symptoms sometimes, so how can it be specific to someone? Brains are different. They can be compromised, and some people have too much going on in their brain and chemicals are mixed, which can cause an illness.
In conclusion, at the end of the day mental illness is an illness and people need to accept that. Sure, the neuro-typical population is learning to come around, but we as a society still have a long way to go before the stigma ends. There is such a thing as stigma against this illness and it needs to be stopped because if it isn’t then the people who are plagued by this illness will not get the help they need to continue living on this earth without being plagued by their illness. Most importantly they will get to live, something that people with mental illness find very hard to do on most days. Validation is one of the things they need to feel better about themselves. Do not tell them it’s fake. Do not tell them it’s all in their head. Do not tell them that others have it worse. Do not worsen their illness. Accept it and support them.