One of the things that I’ve really tried to do with this blog is be careful about how I language and think about mental illness. A couple weeks ago I posted a TED talk by a woman who has schizophrenia. She discussed her struggles, the voices in her head, and her perception of what they meant. I titled my post “What are the voices in your head?” I did that very intentionally because I wanted you to to take the experience of someone with a severe mental illness and see that they are not different than you. They may have a more biological basis for their voices, but perhaps their biology is just an extreme form of your biology. If we all lied on a scale, could they just be on one end of that scale and you’re on another end or perhaps in the middle?
Well, this argument is, essentially, the argument being made within the field. How do we think about mental illness? Is it something like the medical field where you either have it or you don’t? Or is it something more on a continuum where you have some level of it? Or perhaps it’s some combination of both. In the medical field, you either have a disease or you don’t, you either have cancer or you don’t, but isn’t it also true that we all have some disease cells in your body that at some point grow to the point of it becoming cancerous? Maybe mental illness is the same thing. We may all have some level of a certain disease, but it may not manifest fully. I mean think about it…don’t you notice how we all have tendencies. Some of us may be more susceptible to depression or to anxiety or _________(fill in your blank). And perhaps there more extreme forms that might warrant some more serious attention. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just a signal to seek help.
I write this to challenge the way you think about mental illness. Are those with mental illness really any different than you? Do you create a sense of separation between “them”? Is there even a “them” – have you created an “us” versus “them” mentality? Maybe you’re not that different in the first place. Do you ever feel sad? hurt? Do you have voices in your head that tell you what you should or should not do? I think it’s fair to say we all may think a little too much at times. From an Acceptance and Commitment Therapeutic perspective, you could call that your “thinking self.”
If you knew someone had diabetes, would you judge them, be scared of them, not know what to do with them? No, you would support them in getting the help that they need. Psychological research has not yet advanced far enough to find biomarkers, but we’re far enough to start detecting genetic and biological vulnerabilities towards various diseases. With each passing year, we get a little closer to understanding mental illness. However, what we don’t need more research on is how our perception of mental illness can affect us or someone we know getting treatment. We don’t have to wait for research to tell us that we need to drop the stigma and embrace understanding and compassion.
- What are the voices in your head trying to tell you?
- Quote Therapy – by Dr. Russ Harris
- Imminent Danger: The Problem with Mental Illness and the Justice System
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Bringing psychology into the 21st century
- Welcome to Psych Connection!
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Categories: Blogs by Rubin