It was a few months ago, when I wrote an article about my sudden awakening to what mental illness can do to people. In fact it was a rude awakening because I was left in a uncomfortable state. I was ashamed that I had gone 24 years without acknowledging the devastating black hole that is mental illness. I also took time to watch Matthew Perry’s inspiring debate on drug courts for addicts, with the not-so-inspiring Peter Hitchens on Newsnight. As expected, Perry comes across in an articulate manner which is quite alien, although there were many of Chandler Bing’s mannerisms present. Hitchens however, decided to take on the role of Peter Griffin, vacant and quite frankly, thick as a dog shit milkshake. I was so enthralled by the debate, I took to Twitter to voice my ever-present opinion.
The issue, society as a collective struggles with, is that an affliction to the mind is met with stigma, yet an affliction to the body is met with empathy and sympathy. The brain is the most important organ, after the heart so why do we not empathise with those that suffer from problems with it. Like it or not, an addiction is a mental illness – your brain is unable to say no. Whilst, an addict makes the initial decision to take a drug, drink, gamble etc, it triggers a dangerous chain of events, which increasingly make it difficult for the addict to take control of. So, it’s at this point, I ask the following question; does an addict choose to be one? The answer is no. Addiction isn’t pretty and it has a severe impact on relationships, so why would anyone choose to be one? If that was the case, there wouldn’t be as many drug addicts because they can just as easily, choose to stop being one. Another way to look at addiction is that people’s minds are wired differently, in the same way that bodies are. Some are allergic to nuts, penicillin, sunlight and even water; luckily my body doesn’t react negatively to any of these. However, when it comes to matters of the mind, others react very negatively to certain triggers. People will not know that they are susceptible to addiction until have that they experience the catalyst for the first time. Marry that with the situation that led to this, then it becomes very hard to assert this to just willpower.
In regards to how we interact with people who are suffering with mental illness, society’s reaction is still quite infantile. We ask those who are diagnosed as ‘depressed’ to snap out of it. If it’s so easy to ‘snap out of it’, why in the blue fuck (always wanted to say that) would they put themselves in that situation? Since most of us aren’t qualified psychologists suggesting to the mentally ill to ‘try this’, is probably the single most moronic statement you could make. Have you ever noticed that when a victim of a crime is mentally ill, their version of events becomes less credible because they cannot possibly be in the ‘right frame of mind’ to know what was happening?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while and although it’s not my job to educate others, if I have the insights, I need to share them. I’ve become far more compassionate to people I pass on the street, whether they are homeless or the person that stepped on my shoe on the train journey home. If I will educate you today, I’d implore you to instill empathy, rather than sympathy, in your life. Empathy is sharing the problems someone is going through, sympathy is looking on from your rosy situation, asking if everything’s okay.
Two thoughts to ponder;
Put yourself in the shoes of the mentally ill, how would you want society to treat you?
Imagine, cancer was treated with the same stigma as mental illness.