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Why Everyone Must Think of Mental Illness as an Illness

02/16/2015 11:28 EST | Updated 04/18/2015 05:59 EDT
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Lately, as I educate myself more about mental illness, its prevalence, symptoms, and the medications, psychiatric care, and other methods that best treat them, I've noticed a trend: those of us who are battling a mental illness, those who are affected by someone battling one, or those who are generally more educated and interested in the subject matter -- it is those people who are most receptive to the dialogue and the propagation of the message that mental illness is real and as painful as any physical ailment.

Sadly, those who are closed-minded to the reality of depression as an actual illness will be the ones who will find information about mental illness unwelcome, unnecessary and imaginary. It is the people who understand (or at the very least who try damn hard to understand) what living with a mental illness truly entails, and as such are most sympathetic and proactive in the escalation of its message as one crucial to the evolution of the issue. It is these people who continue to speak out.

Despite a greater outreach about mental illness, such as Clara Hughes's "Big Ride" to further promote the need for mental health initiatives, there are still far too many people out there suffering in silence due to the open commentary of some ignorant members of society who believe (and/or don't care) that mental illnesses are a creation of a sensational movement rather than an actual life-threatening issue. As such, this firmly unreceptive collective thought process further creates hurdles in moving forward.

I've said it in prior posts and I'll say it again, but why must this message be so difficult to convey? People suffering from Fibromialgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, but to name a few, have diagnoses accepted as valid and legitimate when seeking treatment. Unlike those of us desperate for some kind of acceptable diagnosis, the pleas of the latter are not dismissed by the public as ones which are sensational and "in their heads."

To pursue a negative dialogue due to ignorance on the subject matter, and to wish that those suffering with mental illness would do so in silence, is tantamount to saying that this is even possible. Would you tell someone with the stomach flu to stop barfing? Like any physical illness, mental ailments can take time to diagnose, and require subsequent visits with GPs, and referrals to psychologists and psychiatrists, which sadly, in our health care system take several months (if not years) to access. My own diagnoses have gotten progressively more complicated because they've been buried away since adolescents, and as such will take time to properly extricate, and label.

One can live with mental illness for years, decades even, before destructive or debilitating behaviours are noticed and acknowledged by family, friends, health care providers, or the victim. And since mental illnesses travel in packs, one feeding off the weaknesses of the others, each one gnawing away at the victim's psyche until there is too little left to save, mood disorders account for 90 per cent of suicides within the mental health community.

Depression, for example, requires different medication and treatment than Bipolar disorder. Anxiety requires yet a different kind. The constant monitoring of each disorder is exhausting and sometimes exasperating as hope soars with each new medication and doctor's visit, however defeat looms nearby cloaked in black, a voice hissing, "I told you so!" at the sight of yet another one of your failures. Defeat is a dark shadow that pins you down and tells you that you aren't even sick, despite the fact that your only desire is to get better.

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