Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
Is it possible you stigmatize mental illness and those who have it? (Stigma: a mark of strong disapproval, or regarded as worthy of disgrace*).
Take note of your responses as you read the following true story. Then take the quiz at the end to find out!
Ken** sees snakes that are not there. In his reality they bite him.
Ken also sees a little man sitting on his left shoulder. The little man hits Ken and tells him to pull off his toenails.
Ken’s legs all but stopped working one day, and someone else had to pull them out of the car to help him stand. Although he remained dizzy, he believed he could not lay down. Dinner was followed by a nap for which he did lay on his bed.
Waking a short time later, he said he was hungry. Someone informed him he had eaten a full dinner, but he did not believe it. He remembered nothing of earlier events and insisted on finishing a second full meal.
Ken has numerous and extreme physical problems. Sometimes he struggles to move about his home. Due to heart and blood pressure issues, chronic pain from a long ago accident, and mental illness, Ken takes a variety of medications every day.
Although he was always a hard worker and once owned a successful business, all his money was lost over the course of recovery from the debilitating accident. Currently,his income is Social Security and nothing else.
Limited health insurance allows him to see a psychiatrist with no therapeutic follow-up care for his mental illness. (Psychiatrists only dispense medicine, they do not do therapy except in rare situations). Ken sees his psychiatrist for a few minutes every few months and tells him about recent episodes. Medicines are prescribed accordingly.
Though Ken does not remember some incidents related to his illness, he is expected to articulate his symptoms to this psychiatrist. His attention span is abnormally short. He also cannot read. Clearly, he needs a knowledgable advocate to protect his health interests, however none are assigned.
Ken attends a church of the Christian faith. He is kind and generous. You will not find gossip or complaining about other people. He is laid-back, accepting of others, and patient.
Ken is never violent. He is completely trusted by those around him. A classic gentleman, he treats everyone with respect. People enjoy his sense of humor as he jokes around and laughs easily.
NOW FOR YOUR QUIZ
A. What were your thoughts when you read the first four paragraphs of Ken’s story?
- Did “He’s crazy!” cross your mind? Y N
- Did you feel fear, anger, suspicion, or disgust? Y N
- Was your first response to recoil or say, “Someone needs to lock this dude up!” Y N
- Some readers may have thought Ken needs to be delivered from demonic forces. Was this you? Y N
If you experienced any of these reactions, you are not alone. Schizophrenia is so poorly understood almost everyone fears it.
FACT: Medical research and brain science strongly suggest that brain injury in early infancy and in utero, can lead to a diagnosis of schizophrenia years 20 years later. Rather than coming on in late adolescence, schizophrenia symptoms are a response to maturation of the brain***. Ken’s symptoms appeared in early adulthood which is typical timing for the disorder.
B. When you learned of Ken’s physical health, did your opinion shift?
- To compassion or more compassion? Y N
- To withdrawal or more withdrawal? (I wouldn’t want to know this guy) Y N
- To apathy or more apathy? Y N
FACT: Physical illness and disabilities are generally accepted as unfortunate situations. However, people with psychiatric illness or disabilities garner little sympathy because of a public false perception that they cause and control such disabilities.
C. As you learned of Ken’s mental health treatment (or lack thereof), what did you think about it?
- He needs to stop relying on quacks Y N
- That’s too bad because Ken is helpless Y N
- Lock him up- he shouldn’t be outpatient anyway Y N
FACT: Evidence points to a lack of positive results when people with mental illness are forced to undergo treatment. One study**** revealed a strong public preference for the institutionalization of people with serious psychiatric disorders. Perhaps this explains a lackluster outcry for mental health parity, which would provide the same insurance coverage for psychiatric as physical illnesses. For more on mandated treatment see article. *****
D. As more of his innate character traits were described, what effect did they have on your original judgment?
- Less Fear Y N
- Anger subsided Y N
- Relief at least this one is less scary Y N
Ken’s brother forced young Ken to endure being trapped and smothered in snakes. Their mother’s untreated mental illness created a chaotic home life. The family situation was so bad Ken moved out at 13. He completed his childhood as a member of an itinerate evangelist’s work team, and never finished what little schooling he’d had.
Trauma (of which he has suffered plenty) can profoundly change how one sees the world. Trauma also affects the brain. As in anything, people struggle differently with trauma. Some people seem fine while others do not cope well. Without the opportunity to work with a mental health professional who understands trauma-recovery, Ken is left to his own devices to manage deep issues he does not know how to face.
Despite all this, Ken simply remains a nice guy.
Any Yes: Reconsider your gut reaction to mental illness and to people who have it
8-13 Yes answers: You believe false information, and lots of it. Intentionally or not, your reactions and no doubt your words promote stigma which ultimately hinders people from finding the help they need. Read Mental Health Myths and Facts or for a deeper look at the effects of stigma, read this article
Untreated or under treated mental illnesses will, by their very nature, appear different from the norm. Untreated or under treated mental illness tends to cause more suffering for the person who has it, and for their supports who also need to learn how to cope.
Today’s Helpful Word
“It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet.”
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stigmatize and https://www.google.com/#q=stigmatized&
**name has been changed
***National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Program
****Debating Forced Treatment and Mental Illness. Retrieved on April 1, 2017 from http://www.peteearley.com/2013/02/06/debating-forced-treatment/
*****PATRICK W CORRIGAN and AMY C WATSON, World Psychiatric Association. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. 2002 Feb; 1(1): 16–20. Retrieved on April 1, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/