How do we view mental illness?
This piece may seem a little academic than my usual pieces, but I’ve been wanting to explore this you all for while now.
If I take the simple question stated, “How do we view mental illness?” a flurry of ideas comes to (my)mind.
Firstly, let’s take two key words and turn them into the topics I want to tackle:
“we”: who is the ‘we’ are referring to? Is it the doctor or more broadly, the health practitioner ‘s view or the view of the patient? Or is it the view of the supporter (family or friend)?
I am sure many would agree it is the integration of all three. And in the same breath because of all the contradictory views or insight each may have into the illness, it can cause havoc, worsening the negative effect of the illness. Please note I use the word ‘patient’ but I always do it. I don’t like it- but it’s better than sufferer.
Looking at that relationship between doctor, patient and supporter, if there is a breakdown in any of those, it could potentially affect the patient’s well-being, whether it is the way in which the patient is treated or understood by family or the correct medication and treatment plan is administered.
As a patient myself, I’ve had first hand experience in this mental-illness love triangle:
Doctor ==> patient ==> family.
This is where my academic voice tapes off.
In South Africa, stigma surrounding mental Illness is rife, and with poverty and little education driving change, the role of the support structures is usually weak. Patients may be perceives as ‘lazy’ or the classic one ‘you just don’t want to work’. These types of comments and general dismissive attitudes often result in frustration and distress for the patient. It may escalate, and worsen t condition’s grip on the patient, changing or adding new symptoms and behaviour the doctor now needs to treat.
Organizations like SADAG have a tough job to educate people, increasing the understanding mental illness awarness as we’ll as how it can be managed.
The doctor in the triangle may also be to blame for misdiagnosis- their view of mental illness is merely a checkbox affair. Patients are then not prescribed the correct treatment plan.
In my experience in 2012, I was diagnosed by a GP I’d been seeing regularly at my university. He advised that I see the psychiatrist there. Quick not to follow the GP, his view was then that I continue my therapy sessions, “Let’s not rush that (bipolar) as a diagnosis.” A few weeks later, I attempted suicide, fell pregnant and dropped out of university (for the second time). I couldn’t get the help I needed from him. I went to a new psychiatrist and I was diagnosed in the 1h30min session. After some time, he went on leave and I had to switch to his partner. I believe we formed a great relationship from the beginning and I understood that I needed to communicate all my symptoms to her. I realized that it’s a team effort, even when I’m down. I tell her I’m drowning and she watches me lose air, scribbles a few notes then tells me why I feel like that, with that lifting me up to the surface again.
So whilst we as individual patients try to manage our anxiety, stress, racing thoughts And psychosis, we also have to be able to communicate exactly what we’re going through. This, to both our doctors and supporters alike. It’s a tiresome job balancing moods, we don’t just sleep and pop pills. We have lives outside of our illness too.
The “how”, in my opinion, relates to what mental illness looks like in the media, in hushed conversations as well as what comes to mind YOU think of a person who is mentally ill?