Stigmas are toxic. When those with mental illness are described as “crazy” or “psycho,” it illustrates how ignorant and asinine society continues to be. Mental health treatments have made significant progress, and we can now attribute many psychiatric diseases to neurochemical imbalances and organic causes. Yet sadly, this age-old stigma remains carelessly intact. Consequently, negative stereotypes inhibit those with mental illness from seeking effective treatments that can be life changing. In turn, many people continue suffering needlessly in an effort to avoid negative judgments from others AND from self.
The truth is that we live in a very black & white society where things are perceived as either all or nothing. If you have a mental disease, you must be crazy, weak, or less functional. However, do we make such illogical claims for other organic diseases, such as cancer or heart disease? Have you ever given careful consideration to the organic difference between diseases of the mind versus that of the body when both have a biological basis?
Undeniably, your physical health is affected by your mental health. People who experience chronic elevated levels of anxiety are more vulnerable to heart and other diseases. Those suffering from depression have a slower rate of recovery from medical conditions. And honestly, is there truly anyone who doesn’t experience some ailment of the mind at one time or another? If so, then I ask why many have learned to rely on more acceptable forms of remedy, such as alcohol, marijuana, and other narcotics to ease the discomforts of the mind.
In reality, there are many shades of grey in life that we neglect to see. Mental health exists on this continuum. From the Mother Theresa’s to the Ted Bundy’s; the well-balanced to the unbalanced; our mental health as well as our physical health all fit along this line. In fact, some of the most brilliant, creative minds throughout history suffered from a mental illness. Many would not have been distinguished without their “insanity”.
Renowned writers, such as Virginia Woolf, Earnest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Leo Tolstoy were all documented to have suffered from severe, suicidal, major depression that often manifested in the emotional intensity of their novels and poetry. Famous artists and musicians, including Beethoven and van Gogh both had bipolar disorder, whereas Michelangelo suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Prominent leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi all battled severe depression and suicidality. Even celebrated scientists and mathematicians, such as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein struggled with OCD, while Sir Isaac Newton and John Nash suffered from schizophrenia. These legendary icons unmistakably demonstrate that mental illness is not just one note.
Depression has been shown to promote traits of realism and empathy. Mildly depressed individuals tend to see the world more as it is and are realistic enough to see painful truths, whereas many “normal” people suffer from positive illusion – an inflated sense of false control. OCD is known to encourage traits of perfectionism and meticulousness. Many people with OCD have enhanced organizational skills and a heightened ability to foresee sequences of events necessary for categorization and planning. The hypomania stage of bipolar disorder supports traits of energy, creativity, and confidence. When channeled to higher tasks, these qualities can result in outstanding productivity in some people.
ADHD sustains traits of hyperfocus, hyperspeed, and risk-taking behaviors. The stimulated brains of ADHD individuals allow them to effortlessly multi-task, quickly process information, and have an increased capacity for multiplex vision to solve problems outside the box during crisis situations. There are other mental diseases with useful traits that aren’t covered here. The goal is to illustrate that mental illness can be harnessed and redirected to beneficial use. And mental health treatments today are more effective than ever before to achieve this end.
“What doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger.”
This is a credo I live by. So true that I even have it inked to my shoulder. Mental illness doesn’t make you crazy or weak. I’ve had my own personal battle with OCD since childhood. For me, once I was able to manage the unhealthy part of my mental disease, the beneficial traits of OCD shined. I can’t say that I would have reached my successes today without these attributes. However, I can say that my weakness was the force that drove my strength.
As today’s society continues to negatively stigmatize mental illness and its treatments, it is a reminder that there is much work ahead to raise awareness and de-stigmatize mental health.