Reading the comments on a blog post recently, which discusses mental illnesses and their erratic manifestations, a commenter stated, with no room for quibbling, that mental illness was as extreme as the person suffering from it. In other words, mental illness (and it was generalized as opposed to, for instance, deciphering between OCD or major depressive disorder), could be combated if the person suffering chose to change their diet, improve upon their health regimen, introduce homeopathic remedies, and more importantly, turn that frown upside down.
She was adamant that these solutions could be effective for everyone since they had improved her mental health, and as such, cured her of her depression. More significantly however, this enlightened commenter refuted the need for medical professionals in this process since she had been rather successful without much more than the aid of her favourite yoga studio.
As with cancer, which has four stages and each stage requires varying levels of treatments, and the progression of diabetes, which can be slowed down either by diet and exercise or in a more advanced point of the disease with insulin, mental illnesses have varying degrees of severity with differing treatment methods. After two years of meeting with family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and developing a solid rapport with my pharmacist, being told I would need treatment for my bipolar disorder at first, did not assuage my sadness at the state of my mental well-being. Now, however, knowing and understanding my disease has given me the power and the courage to find steady footing rather than wobble on the precipice of uneducated heresay.
Writing about mental illness invites information -- sometimes informed, sometimes not so informed -- from people who will claim that they too once suffered from depression, anxiety, OCD, ADD, bipolar types I or II, schizophrenia; and will claim to have the cure to one or all of these. Often switching diets is recommended while other times a change in mindset which includes a more positive attitude should reduce and/or make the symptoms and/or the illness itself disappear. Were this in fact the case, many of us reeling from side effects of our medications, which are more manageable than the symptoms of our respective diseases, would gladly give up gluten and dairy.
The problem, however, is not that any of the suggestions from the general population are wrong or unwanted but that the assumption that mental illness, which was alleviated for one person with daily meditation and positive thinking, will also be the cure for the other. Some mental illness sufferers will have milder versions of their respective illnesses, which can be conquered through methods which do not consist of medication or even regular psychiatric visits. However others will battle such wars within their minds that medical care is not only necessary, it is imperative.
The same applies to physical diseases. Cancer can range from a small, easily treatable tumor to an aggressive form requiring months and months of chemo and radiation. Nevertheless, cancer patients are not compared to one another, and telling someone dealing with cancer that chemo should be substituted for better nutritional habits would be offensive. A cancer survivor would not claim to know that his/her plan of care would undeniably be the solution for someone else with a similar cancer simply because it had decreased his/her mass.
Although I can say with a sigh of relief that I am now, finally, learning to recognize the shifts in my moods caused by my bipolar II disorder, positive thinking and meditation are indeed helpful in reducing my anxiety and helping to maintain my stable moods. But even with medication, bipolar disorder is unpredictable, and major depression is still a predominant aspect of this disease. And try as I might, when I am drowning and clinging to the buoy, quitting my medication and switching to organic fruits and veggies in order to feel better is not an option unless I want to find myself inches away from the psych ward again.
Just as you wouldn't advise someone suffering from Parkinson's to stop taking medication which alleviates some of the symptoms of the disease, the same thought process should be involved before handing someone who is suffering from depression a diet regimen to replace their Wellbutrin, unless you are that person's medical professional.
I am flabbergasted by the amount of suggestions I have received by complete strangers claiming to know better than my doctors and myself the necessary treatment in order for me to remain mentally healthy. Of course those who have overcome their own mental illness through a healthier lifestyle and perseverance will feel validated in contributing their own experience, and to those people I thank you for your care, compassion, and concern. But there is a great difference between suggesting an option which could improve quality of life, and stating that proper treatment should invariably be substituted for a more positive attitude and a yoga mat.
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