When I resigned from my job as a staff nurse, I didn’t really know what career I wanted to cross over to. You know, the “I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this” phase. I was ready for a career change, but didn’t really have a specific new career in mind to begin with.
Then introspection and a lot of self-evaluation led me to discover that what I really want is to go into the field of psychology. It’s interesting, it involves a lot of things I like doing, it doesn’t involve much of the things I hate doing, and it tries to answer most of the questions I bother myself with everyday. So psychology it will be, I decided.
But it wasn’t until I listened to Elyn Saks talk about her personal experience as a person with schizophrenia that I truly realized how much I care, how much I want to understand, how much I want to help. After listening to that talk, I just couldn’t help but cry. And it wasn’t even a gentle, sympathetic kind of tear-shedding, but an uncontrollable, soul-hurt kind of cry that left me gasping for breath.
I don’t really know why this issue affects me so much, but it does. The stigma society places on mental disorders is unbelievably unfair and amazingly cruel. The common perception is that people who are mentally ill are the way they are because they have allowed themselves to be too weak, that somehow they chose to be that way, and it’s definitely their fault they can’t discipline themselves to be positive and resilient enough to deal with life and its hardships.
Mental disorders are seen and treated by society so differently from physical illnesses. While the latter often solicits sympathy, care, and more love, the former is greeted with haughtiness and an impatient “Can’t you just perk up?” treatment. “Snap out of that cancer,” said no one ever.
Mentally ill people are fighting a different kind of battle that sadly, only a handful bother to understand and empathize with. When will we begin to see and treat mental illness like the way we see and treat physical diseases? We hear of a cancer diagnosis, and our support flows in. We hear of a schizophrenia diagnosis, and we flee for our lives. Why?
I guess a part of the reason for this, is that the suffering endured by the mentally ill is a suffering we cannot really see and prove for ourselves. Unlike the readily visible wounds and physical abnormalities in physical disease, the wounds and abnormalities a mentally ill person suffers from are wholly inside the mind. Is cancer the worst of diseases? I say not.
The severely mentally ill, these are the people suffering from the worst of lives. Trapped in their own heads, unable to get freed, powerless. Dangerous to themselves and to others without meaning to be so, without even being aware of it…or even when they are aware of it, they cannot counter it.
They are among the most difficult to treat and manage, but they are the ones who most need the care and the management.
To all psychologists, psychiatrists, and would-be professionals of mental health…
There’s work to be done.