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The Unnecessary Shame of Mental Illness How Society’s Perception of the Disease Has Gone Mental

By May 1, 2012Blogs

In the recent second season finale of AMC’s TV hit show The Walking Dead, one hot topic amongst fans was the absurd reaction from the beloved group of survivors towards Rick’s alleged secret. News of each character being infected with the zombie disease, even while being fully alive, brewed the beginning of a possible mutiny – An undeserving betrayal from the man who, at least to the best of his ability, kept the whole group alive.
In comparison, this similar epidemic has been experienced by all of us. While actual sufferers of anxiety and mental health illnesses have an unfortunate Mount Everest to climb, those of us without mental health challenges also have brains with faulty wiring needing repair. For some reason, we as a society have a phobia of mental health. Our brains have been programmed to stigmatize those with mental health conditions for no good reason. We must recognize that we are all infected with this contagious, irrational thought processing.
Let’s all shoot shame in the forehead, and acknowledge that ignorance towards mental health is more than just common – it is the norm. I am neither a doctor nor a medical student. However, my initial response about mental health diseases was very similar to the common trend. My Rorschach associations to “Mental Illness” were:

  1. Insane People – Once you reach insanity, there is no return. First, even those who have legally been deemed insane are still treatable. Thus, the stigma of reaching such a point of no hope is illogical. Second, many mental health breakdowns result from accumulated stages of hidden stressors from everyday living. This should raise a red flag for more education and awareness about mental health and potential stressors that can lead to mental illness.
  2. Dementia, Memory Loss, Aging – There’s no need to worry about Mental Health until you’re really old. The unfortunate early retirement of Pat Summit’s legendary NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Coaching Career hopefully serves to raise awareness to this small facet of mental health. Just like Summit’s career, mental health transcends all, and does not discriminate race or age.

Everybody loves Looney Tunes. Unfortunately, we all grew up with the notion that anyone associated with mental health issues must have flown over the cuckoo’s nest. Moments after Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam gets hit in the head with a giant hammer, a team of medics quickly straps the garment of shame on the poor characters without fail.
In the work of filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was in denial of a very serious mental illness. And where does Leo’s character end up for proper treatment? You guessed it. A dungeon-like doghouse filled with other “crazies”. Since the setting took place in 1954, the impressions of mental illness may have been a bit old school.
Let’s restrain ourselves from being bound and gagged, and move to present time. Do insane asylums still exist? And if they do, are they the preferred settings for treatment? Sadly, they still are in many consumers’ minds. This is the very affliction many of us must overcome. We have to understand and take responsibility that we play a huge role in the treatment and recovery of our family and friends who may be unidentified, undiagnosed, and untreated sufferers of mental illness.
How can we expose ourselves to the truth and help those we love with a mental disease when we are anxious and fearful of mental illness ourselves? Education decreases ignorance and increases awareness. Today, there are many mental health centers dedicated to treating mental illness humanely with evidence-based therapies. Effective treatment is not asylums, strait jackets, or harmful pills.
Man’s greatest fear has always been that of the unknown. In today’s world, although mental health has largely been an unknown, you can play a big part in the cure for these underrated diseases. The first step is to accept mental illness as any other physical disease. At the end of the day, your head IS part of your physical body. Isn’t it?