Sunday, November 24, 2013

Discussion on Mental Health

Mental health conditions are a great prevalence in our society, and in all others. Even though mental health problems seem to be just as common as physical health problems, the subjects are approached far differently. If I were to walk up to someone I know and tell them I was having a camera put down my throat in two weeks to look at my stomach, they would be understanding and supportive. However if I were to tell that same person that I go to counseling on a weekly (sometimes bi-weekly) schedule, they would likely have some hesitation about how to deal with the situation. In my eyes, both of these situations are essentially the same. I am having a camera put down my throat to try to find, and ultimately solve the problems I am having that affect my physical health. I go to counseling to try to find and solve the problems I have that affect my mental health. To me, physical health and mental health should be treated with the same amount of compassion and support because they both cause problems in the lives of those who have to deal with them. Both require help and guidance, either to cure the problem, or learn to live with it. These are just my personal opinions, but I would like to share some opinions provided by others as well. The decision to put together this blog post was fueled in part by a recent Tauren Think Tank episode (#78 - It Smells Like Wood on ). In this episode a feedback letter was sent in to Rem and Jules that sparked up a lot of conversation. It was the story of a man whose wife struggled with mental illness and the path life took her on with treatment. There is no way for me to try to summarize that letter with the appropriate emotion involved, as just by Jules reading it, it brought tears to several people listening. This is a very powerful and inspirational story and my suggestion is, at the very least, go and listen to the end of the episode if you haven't heard it already. This letter sparked a lot of discussion in the chat room. I selected a few of those comments and am now going to share them, and reply to them with my thoughts.

Arcaynemage said: "It's not physical, not visible, so there's the "it's all in their mind" stigma. An implication that they're making it up."     ~Personally, I agree with this explanation. I think a lot of people have a hard time believing what they can't see. With physical illness, you can see what's wrong, or at the very least often times (with internal illnesses) you can see a picture of what's wrong. But there is no real way to directly see mental illness. All we see is what it does to the individual. For people who cannot grasp the idea of something being wrong that they can't see, they don't believe it to be real. The only other option for them is to believe the person is making it up, or that it is all in their mind.

Wombat1974 said: "The number of times I have heard "OH YOU JUST NEED TO CHEER UP"..."      ~This comment relates to a discussion on depression, and all forms it holds. For someone with depression (speaking from personal experience as this one is common in other members of my family) they CANNOT just cheer up. And if they could, they would. One of my relatives does not enjoy dealing with depression so badly that she sometimes can't get out of bed for days. This isn't something she wants. And for her, she has seasonal affective disorder (SAD) on top of the already severe depression she deals with on a regular basis. For those who don't know, SAD is a disorder where depression either results, or gets worse, at a certain time of year - every year. For many this occurs in the fall and winter months because of the lack of sunlight, the colder temperatures, and other factors that may be different for each individual. So for her, and for many others who deal with varying types of depression, being told to just cheer up can be a very bad thing to hear, and can make their mood even worse. Not only does it show the person doesn't understand what they are going through, but it also comes off as not caring, or at the very least not trying to understand or be sympathetic and compassionate.

Laidraphyre said: "I think people think its kinda contagious or something like that."   ~This is another viewpoint that I agree with. I think this goes back to not understanding the issues with mental illness. I'm going to share a very personal story with this one. Ten years ago when I was in elementary school, and my older sister in middle school I found out she was cutting herself, very badly. This was discovered because my sister and I were watching an episode of 7th Heaven over the summer, as we did almost every day. In this episode, one of the characters was cutting herself. After it was over, my sister showed me her arms. I refused to believe her. I didn't say anything to anybody about it and just ignored it, not because I didn't care, but because at eleven years old, I didn't know how to process what was going on. It wasn't until much later, when school started again that she was finally getting help. And once the family knew about it, things got even harder for her. I remember one time I was in the kitchen with my siblings, and my brother wouldn't go anywhere near my sister. When she asked him about it, his response was "I don't want to catch your disease." This seems like a terrible thing to say, but keeping in mind he was only 8 or 9 at the time, he couldn't comprehend what was actually going on. To me, when adults have the viewpoint of mental illness being contagious, it is the result of a juvenile mindset.

Arcaynemage also said: "It's too bad, but at least there are folks like you guys (Rem, Jules, all of you in the chat room and listening) that are willing to carry on the conversation."     ~This is a very good point. It is terrible the way mental illness is treated in society. There need to be people to talk about it, and to listen. We need to do what we can to better understand all of these problems and be supportive to those who need the support.  By talking about it, we can find that we are learning more, that we are becoming more open minded, and that we are willing to lend a hand to help where we can, even if just by sharing thoughts are forcing the conversation to continue.

Finally, this is what I said in the chat that night: "We can see physical problems. Mental problems... we can't see it. We don't know how to comprehend that which we cannot see, so we fear it and avoid it. And it's a shame."     ~Obviously I agree with this because I said it. But it seems to sum up a lot of what other people said. I hope, by forcing conversation, we can start to help people become more open minded about these issues.

And because this is such a prevalent problem, not talking about mental illness, and shunning those who deal with these struggles, I decided to carry on the conversation in Twitter, by asking this: "Hey all you smart people! I need some opinions on why you think society tends to avoid discussing mental health. I'm working on a blog post." Here is what some on Twitter had to say:

@Chris O'C said: "Political correctness. It stunts conversation about many important issues. People are so paranoid about offending someone (especially when they don't understand the matter) that the convo never starts. There's yet to be a celebrity or spokesperson to bring it to the forefront and no one's going to listen to a random doctor. And most "normal" folks that have various mental illnesses don't talk about it for (genuine) fear of being...well I dunno. Just think how most letters on TTT start. Something to the effect of "I never thought I'd talk about this..." "    ~There are a lot of good points made here. It has yet to be brought up about being afraid to offend people, but this is yet another aspect to the matter. But I think, so long as the topic is approached in a respectful manner, there is some level of understanding that you may not be trying to be offensive, but rather just trying to understand. If more respect can be brought to the people who struggle with these mental illnesses, perhaps they would be more willing to talk about it. We need to have a spokesperson for mental illness. It is a problem, and we need to make it a priority just as much as so many other physical illnesses are. To finish the sentence, most normal folks that have various mental illnesses don't talk about it for (genuine) fear of being judged, rejected, feared, misunderstood (and any number of other words). We need to have a place to be able to talk about it. TTT brings us a place to talk about it, and to bring our opinions together to try to understand each other. Having that place where you know you will be treated with respect makes it feel more safe to bring it up. I commend TTT and the moo crew for all that they do to support everyone who needs someone to lean on, for mental health concerns and anything else they are struggling with in their lives.

@RichardkurnieJ said: because we can't just fix it, we can't see it. Someone can appear fine but still have a mental illness and that scares people."     ~this falls in line with what a lot of other people are saying. It seems there is a great consensus on the biggest problems with avoiding the discussion of mental illness in our inability to see it, and the fear we have because of that.

One person, who will not be mentioned, responded with: "I'd discuss it, but, you know, society avoids it..."     ~I know who this person is, and know it wasn't intended as a serious comment but more of a joke. But it brings up a good point anyway. We don't discuss it because society avoids it. We conform to society, and what society wants. We try to keep people comfortable by avoiding uncomfortable topics. That cannot continue. In my own struggles with mental illness (not anything major) I avoided talking about it with a lot of people because I know it's an uncomfortable topic. But it's uncomfortable because we don't talk about it. Let's get the conversations moving, and continue to talk about it. We must do our best to make it known what's going on, the struggles we face, and the help we need. My first step in opening up about what I'm going through was in sending a series of letters to TTT. Through talking with them, I found the support of an amazing community of individuals willing to listen. And sometimes that's all we need.

@RealKareemAli said: "I think the biggest reason is the stigma attached to it. Part of that is due to a lack of understanding on what it is and how to deal with it mainly but both those affected by it and those who know people affected by it. No one wants to be called crazy or be around those who they view sometimes incorrectly as crazy and unstable. It threatens what's considered the norm and also requires some thought and consideration. And ignoring it is one way to avoid looking in the mirror IMO"     ~This brings up a very touchy topic... the words 'crazy' and 'unstable'. These are words that are often times put upon people who suffer from mental illness. All this does is make the problem worse. Nobody wants to be called crazy. It hurts. This response also brings up two major reasons why we tend to ignore mental health: there's an uncomfortable stigma, we don't understand it, so we refuse to look at it.

@xsinthis said: "It's a bit of a taboo, and it makes people feel awkward, they'd much rather ignore it than confront it"      ~this is yet another good point. It is unfortunate that it is a taboo subject. It reminds me of years ago when women who got pregnant outside of wedlock were sent away to live with someone else for a year so no shame would be brought to their families. And like so many other things in the past that have been taboo that now are not. I just hope that someday, and someday soon, mental illness is something we can talk about instead of ignore.

@applecidermage said: "I believe a lot of why people don't discuss it is because societally we perceive it not being "real" When in fact it's on the same level as having diabetes or heart disease. It's a real thing with your brain. It's also frequently stigmatized as only a thing "bad", abusive or violent people have. People with mental illness are characterized in a myriad of ways - lazy, weak, emotional, etc. There's also a cultural belief that being emotional in general means you are weak or irrational (esp in case of women.)"     ~This brings up a number of good points. As I mentioned previously, mental illness should not be treated any differently by society than any physical illness can be. Furthermore, the number of stigmas placed on those with mental illness is part of the overall problem, and personally I feel it falls back into the fear that many seem to have about mental illness.

@azerrah said: "in my opinion mental illness is one of the least understood things. There is so much to learn about how the mind works. When the system fails to treat those who suffer, bad things happen. After that, all people who suffer with illness are painted with the same brush and people ASSUME everyone is out to do bad things. People then fear the unknown as well as the person who suffers the illness. It's not understood nearly enough."      ~this again is going back to a lack of understanding and a fear. But it also further emphasizes on the point of stigmas and stereotype. With the current accepted view of mental illness, we are not letting those who suffer be individuals, but rather a mold that we chose to see. We're not giving them a chance to let us see the person beneath the illness.The majority of people with mental illnesses don't let it define them, and we shouldn't define them by it either.

@Mistapankake said: "Well we know the brain works and the different parts of the brain but we don't know exactly how or why it works. We don't know why we are sentient, why we have a soul, a conscience and it scares us. When something is a little different from the norm, well that scares us too. But when you add something that is constant but completely incomprehensible and the extra little stimulus of say of mental illness it scares the hell out of us. And how it has been said 'out of sight, out of mind' . We try to ignore it so we don't have to deal with it and try to understand it. We just hope it goes away and that is wrong, utterly and completely. We need to try and understand and help those who need it"    ~As soon as I read this, I knew it was going to be the final comment from others in this post because he does a fantastic job of essentially summing up everything else that is written here. We don't know, so we get scared, so we hide. And that's not okay. It never will be okay.

Friday night, I was watching Batman Begins, and one line really struck me and I wanted to be sure to mention it in this post. Thanks to mistapankake, this is the perfect place to do so. That line was: "this is a world you'll never understand, and you always fear what you don't understand." That one sentence, I completely agree with. However, the one thing we need to consider is that just because we don't understand it, and just because we fear it, doesn't mean we have to avoid it. We need to have the courage to deal with it anyway. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to face those fears. So, lets join together and build up the courage to face our fears and try to truly understand the struggles people with mental illnesses face on a daily basis. Let's give them a friend to confide in, a hand to hold, and a should to cry on if they need it. Let's be a community that helps build people up, instead of breaking them down. 

If you don't know what to do, or how to start a conversation, or how to help, check online. There are a ton of resources for helping individuals with mental illnesses. Here are just some of the resources that I have found:    <--- this one says it's for schizophrenia, but don't disregard it as a lot of the tips apply for just about any mental illness. 

If you would like to be a part of this conversation, PLEASE share this post, and share your thoughts in the comments or elsewhere. If you want to directly share thoughts with me, you can find me on Twitter at @JennMorton01 or just post something in the comments and I'll see it. This is something we need to be talking about and bringing awareness to. Join the conversation and help start the change we need to see.


  1. I only have a little experience with mental illness but I've recently started working for a charity that is run by and for disabled people. This charity doesn't discriminate between mental and physical disablilty so I am learning more all the time. Our marketing lady is Bi-polar & we have quite a few volunteers with Aspergers Syndrome and that doesn't include some of my colleagues who also suffer with depression (as do I).

    I wrote a post earlier this year about my fight with depression & it's the most viewed post on my secondary blog. That tells me there are people out there looking for information & discussion. I'm pretty sure the Sha of Happiness on twitter has written about it too.

    I see a lot of depression related stuff on my Twitter feed - I think society at large doesn't like to talk about mental illness but once you get into a smaller community, these things do get spoken about. I know I've been lucky to find a few good friends via WoW who are also fighting this fight so I know I'm not alone with it anymore and that makes a huge difference!

    The hardest part is reaching out - whether to ask for help or to offer it. It took a lot for me to open up but I'm glad I did & now if I get the feeling that someone on my twitter feed is struggling, I often just DM them to offer a friendly ear if they need it.

    My post is if you're interested.

    Another great UK charity is Mind -

    1. I completely agree with you. Society as a whole doesn't discuss it, and that was what I was getting at. I know there are a lot of smaller communities that do address it, and this is wonderful. My hope is that there can be more and more small communities so that the time can come where these small communities cross paths and eventually society as a whole will be able to discuss it. Charities like the one you work for, and support groups that exist, are a great start for supporting those of us with various forms of mental illnesses. Your post is beautiful. It shows a lot of the struggles that depression has, but also the ability to reach beyond the struggles and fight for something better. Your post is a wonderful way for people to begin to understand on a more personal level the struggles that depression brings to individuals. Keep up the great work, and never stop looking for that next ray of sunshine :)