If I had been able to continue in my college education, I would have attended school for my masters in counseling degree and achieved it. Due to health issues, my education ceased at the Bachelor of Science in psychology level. My experience with mental health issues is not educational alone. I have seen firsthand the stigma, isolation, and yes, neglect of those who struggle with mental health issues.
Many people question why a mental health disease is often treated differently from a physical health disease. The reason is the study of the human mind is a comparatively new field. Prior to Wilhelm Wundt’s 1879 creation of the first psychology lab, the study of psychology was intertwined with philosophy and physiology. Some people believed those who had mental health issues were possessed by the devil. Others believed they could recognize a person’s moral and intellectual faculties by the innate bumps on the person’s head, a field known as phrenology.
Not so many years ago people who had mental illnesses were locked away from society and subjected to treatment no animal; much less human should be subjected. The sister of President John F. Kennedy experienced a botched lobotomy due possibly to simple mental retardation. There is no question President Kennedy’s family was filled with overachievers and a sibling with a lesser IQ trying to fit into a family of overachievers would feel frustration and act on those feelings.
When I was a junior in college, we were shown a video that demonstrated film footage of early psychological practices. I will never forget the images of men and women being tormented as a means of treatment. I never dreamed that during my own three day observation for suicidal ideation I would see how we have not came very far.
When I was admitted, a urine test was taken. Though I had not consumed any benzodiazepine drugs the test came back positive. Rather than believe me, the admitting lady who had no problem with yelling back at one of the patients to shut the **** up asked me where I got the drugs. She said she did not believe me. Several years later I learned a medication I had taken the night before often triggers false positive drug tests. I realize she likely heard the story of it being a mistake often but I felt degraded.
During my three day stay, I did not see the physician until he was forced to see me to prescribe something to allow me to leave. I did not see a therapist. I did see one television set provided that was set to Hurricane Katrina news by choice of staff and later to Cold Case files. Neither choices of these programs was helpful for a group of people who had conditions ranging from depression and suicide, borderline personality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, and others I would be unable to recognize.
About ten years ago, my brother went through a breakdown and we realized he had paranoid schizophrenia. My parents went through the legal system to have him committed to a hospital for a certain length of time and today, while doing some family history research, I read what was said in the court records about how he was reacting when having the episode. He planned to crash his van into the police office and rip the braces off my teeth since the CIA was supposedly chasing him. All cases are not like my brother’s yet it seems too often it is treated that way. Even those who have paranoid schizophrenia or are more severely mentally ill deserve compassion and respect-not stigma that causes them to not want to receive treatment.
The irony of everything I am trying to say in this article is that many of the people reading it experience some degree of difficulty in mental functioning at some point in their lives though most not to the degree of my brother. The number of people on antidepressant medications is mind boggling. My mom once made the statement that half of all hospital beds in the country contain a person with some type of mental condition. My mom is a nurse but by no means a psychological expert so I add this as a disclaimer. Why do so many people need the medications? Is it because we fight and struggle so long in our lives fearing stigma that the need eventually overpowers us? I felt depression from age 12 until age 28 when it became too much not to receive treatment. Many people lose their lives because of the stigma of receiving help for depression and other conditions. At 16 years of age, my best friend from Kindergarten killed herself rather than seek help for depression.
I still feel the stigma of deciding it was best to be hospitalized that weekend. Until that point, my mom bragged I never needed psychological treatment in spite of my many health problems. Afterward it was obvious she was less proud when she told me to clean my house or do something to keep me busy and I would no longer feel that way.
More people who have experienced clinical depression need to enter the field and I desperately wanted to be one of them. Convincing someone of how something reacts-such as my convincing my mom I could not stop myself feeling that way is impossible or at least difficult for those who have not been there.
An illness is an illness is an illness. A mental illness is no different from cancer, AIDS, heart disease, or any other type of disease. Mental illness is a brain illness and those who suffer it deserve our respect so May being Mental Health Month makes this clinically depressed thirty-two year old feel a little less stigma and happy it seems to be lifting in the general population.