Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mental Disease is a Disease--Nothing More,Nothing Less.

Me,a mental patient?How preposterous!

This is how we all react at the first hint of a mental disorder.Why?Because the whole vista of mental disease is nebulous,unfamiliar,scary and stigmatized.It is unfamiliar because very few sufferers talk about it;scary because we have seen only the extreme and perhaps untreated patients losing control over their thoughts,emotions and behavior.Those who suffer from a mental disorder,yet continue to function normally,generally don't talk about their condition.We conclude that all mental disorders possibly end like the extreme cases mentioned above.We stigmatize mental disease because the behavior of those we come across and recognize as mental patients, deviates considerably from the accepted norms.We interpret the outward manifestations of this disorder as a sign of weakness or a flaw in the patient's character,and therefore discredit that person as being unstable,dangerous,and not worthy of our time, friendship,or sympathy.

Before proceeding further let us consider what exactly is a mental illness or disorder.Here is one definition which,I think,covers it all :--

Mental illness is any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Although the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and are different depending on the type of mental illness, a person with an untreated mental illness often is unable to cope with life's daily routines and demands.

And the cause of a mental disease could either be --

Genetic--A blood relation who is a mental patient.
Biological--Anomalies in brain chemistry.
Environmental--Brain injury,infections,substance abuse,poor nutrition,exposure to toxins,prenatal exposure to virus alcohol or toxins,child abuse and cruelty.
Psychological--A traumatic experience like death,disease,divorce,treachery,rape,loss etc.

If these be the causes of mental disorders,why and how does stigma creep in?The reason is quite simple.If I have a cardiac problem whatever is happening in my body is not visible outside;but in case of a mental disorder my moods,emotions and behavior are all open to public scrutiny.Any aberrations will be attributed to my incompetence,eccentricity,moodiness,selfishness,stupidity, immorality or an attention-gaining mechanism.

Inappropriate behavior sets a mental patient apart from others.He is unable to function in consonance with societal norms--whether in family,school or work place.

Since he is unable to tend to his own upkeep properly,his disheveled appearance adds to the bias against him.People around him fail to understand what he is going through and therefore label him uncharitably.

All this adds to the stigma, but the description above applies only to those who have not been treated.

There might be many mental patients around you who are being treated,who are productive members of society and whom you do not recognize as mental patients;because they have never talked about their illness.In this way they too,add to the stigma.

Not only others,even the patient often stigmatizes himself,thinks he is incapable of taking an active part in society,shuns company and plods on without seeking help .

Then there is the family--which wraps a curtain of secrecy around the patient,sometimes even confines him to a room and deprives him of social as well as familial interaction.

All this results in social,economical and professional discrimination.He gets fewer chances to study,evolve,work,make friends,get married and find suitable accommodation.

If it is not isolation and discrimination,it is bullying and humiliation.Is it any wonder then,that a person thus persecuted retrieves in his shell and becomes a social misfit?It is the society which puts him there.

Patients refrain from seeking treatment because of this stigma,but their worsening condition reinforces it.

According to National Mental Health Program,MoHFW,GOI--
"Treatment gap in severe Mental Disorders is 50%.In case of common Mental Disorders it is over 90%."

How To End This Stigma?
It is incumbent on all of us to realize that a mental disorder is a disease,not a self inflicted condition or something to be ashamed of.

Those who suffer from it can help by talking about it as Deepika Padukone did.When a person like Deepika admits to having been treated for depression,many others will gather the courage to do so.Those who seek treatment at the right time can continue to have a normal life-their symptoms controlled.Here is a list of fifty famous personalities who suffered from mental illness,yet they made a name for themselves.

If you come across a mental patient treat him no different than you would a person with a fractured arm.Do not avoid him,thinking that he is abnormal.When you connect with him you will realize that he too,is human like you, and hungry for companionship.He needs your empathy but not your pity.

I have interacted with many schizophrenics-who were undergoing treatment--none of them was unstable or dangerous.In fact they were intelligent and logical,the difference being that their perception of reality,their adapting skills were distorted.

If you see someone combating emotional problems show your willingness to help.Inform him about the various Mental Health Professionals available in your city and help him choose one.For example psychiatrists prescribe medicines but do very little counseling,others like a psychologist,clinical psychologist,or a psychiatric counselor diagnose the ailment,give extensive counseling and refer to a psychiatrist if medication is needed.It all depends upon the severity of the disease.There are also specialized professionals like child psychologists and marriage counselors.

Instead of ousting mental patients from schools,work places and houses,attempts should be made to rehabilitate them.

According to this site many people either recover fully through early diagnosis and proper treatment,or at least their symptoms can be managed successfully.Some of those who suffer from a severe disorder may be disabled.Eight out of ten can return to their normal activities.

The ball is in our court.

Related posts:--

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder---The Enemy Within

# Fears and Phobias

Treating #Depression

#Suicidal Thoughts

Image from google search.


  1. Very relevant post in these modern times, Induji.
    The problem is that despite our advancement in science & technology, we are yet to know much about even our human body & especially our mind that is responsible for the advancements! Not for nothing are humans the most intelligent creatures.
    But, sadly, we don't know who's a victim or suffering such mind-diseases.
    Awareness is much important.

    1. Yes Anita the mind is no less than an enigma--very tender in some and super strong in others.
      Thanks for the appreciation.

  2. Thanks for sharing such valuable information.
    Only mentals we have seen is what is shown in the movies.

    1. It is true Chowla ji movies and TV shows add to the stigma.
      Thank you for visiting.

  3. Excellent post aunty. Its really sad, the way we treat people with mental illnesses. Most people are quick to stigmatize and reject without even understanding the problem. On one hand, I can understand that patients are not easy to handle because their outward behaviour makes them so. On the other hand, they can't help it - we don't know the pain they are going through. So even if we don't know how to help them, we should be negative towards them.

    1. Yes Ash it is not easy to live with a mental patient--but then,they too,do not have an easy life.
      Thanks for reading Ash.

    2. we should NOT be negative towards them... typo

  4. Sensitizing the general public to mental health disorders goes a long way. Since most don't understand its full extent, they treat it with ridicule or awkwardness.

    1. Awkwardness--yes that is what we feel in the presence of such a sufferer.We can't decide whether to probe or allow him his space;sometimes it is difficult to decide.
      Thank you Purba for coming over and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Glad Deepika spoke about it and demolished some myths. Just as Abhishek spoke about dyslexia. This creates positive awareness.

  6. Yes,it was certainly rather a brave decision because it is not done at all .

  7. As always, you shed light on sensitive subjects. I have closely seen people with depression (not a mental illness), and sometimes it can be very exhausting to be around them. I hate this stigma around psychological problems in our country which stops people from seeking the required help.

    1. Thank you Rachna for this beautiful compliment.
      It is true caring for a mental patient or even being around them as you say,,can be very tiring.I have seen many of them forsaken by their families-it is very sad.

  8. The biggest problem is the lack of predictability of the reactions of someone who is mentally ill. The lack of predictability leads to the other person feeling a sense of inadequacy in dealing with the person, if not in general, and human beings tend to react to being made to feel inadequate by irrationally vehement reactions

  9. I think in iIndia, especially, mental illness has a label of social stigma attached to it. As you've mentioned, most of the times, we find it similar to 'madness' and, any type of psychological problem is nothing but 'madness' to most of us!
    Mental illness is a disease of mind, just like we have different diseases of the body, and, we need to understand that. A little touch of love and compassion can do miracles sometimes.

    Thanks for coming up with such a sensitive issue. It was a nice read... :-)

    1. Maniparna welcome to jeeteraho.Thanks for reading and resonating,glad you liked it .
      Have a nice weekend.

  10. Awareness has certainly gone up from the days of my childhood when people with mental disorders were often left heckled, hurt and shunned. I have seen at least two sets of tearful parents getting signatures from neighbours to certify that their son/daughter was a mental patient and needed to be institutionalised. In those days too, those who were so admitted never returned to normal life and society. So it was a terrible thing. The van from a mental hospital was dreaded. But then that was about serious mental disorders when the patients. As you have pointed out, those with minor disorders often go unnoticed except by those who are close to them. When one becomes aware that one has a problem, it is important to seek help and when the person is not able to, the family should be sensitive enough to do it for them. We have so many drugs to combat chemical imbalances in the brain and excellent counselling to help others come out of the problems. As you have rightly pointed out, it is but an illness that needs to be treated. Period.

    1. Your reply adds an element of reality to what i said-thank you .How terrible it must have been for such parents.Yes those who are institutionalized seldom return because these institutions leave a lot to be desired for and the treatment was denied to them when it was still controllable.

      Thanks for this input Zephyr,have a cool Sunday.
      Love n hugs.

  11. Ashwini where healthy individuals are concerned i totally agree that we should not blame society for our failures.But mental patients are frail inside Circumstances play havoc with their ability to withstand traumas and downturns.

  12. True Indu - but it is difficult to determine when one is mentally ill and when someone is using it to escape consequences of one's actions. For example in my engineering, I played the fool and did not prepare for an exam. I managed to conveniently fall sick on the day of the exam and escape the exam and rewrite it later on. When one can create physical illness at will, how much more easier to create mental illness. If things are going wrong in career or studies, I can tell myself that I am mentally ill and try to get away instead of facing the challenges,

    1. I beg to differ here Karthik.
      Shamming illness is one thing-most of us must have done it in school/college days;but pretending to be mentally ill is no fun,as you must have gathered from the text above.
      And going by the public response to mental illness-one could go from bad to worse,pretending to be mentally ill--so don't try it :)


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