Millions Suffer With Mental Illness In Silence
Millions suffer from mental illness in North America. Many never seek help for their mental illnesses. Instead, they try to battle their inner demons alone. Some don’t realize they have the illness, but many are stopped from seeking psychiatric help due to fear.
Several valid fears can prevent people from seeking help. Many fear being stigmatized or institutionalized and losing friends, family or employment. For some, the fear of psychiatric drugs and their potential side effects holds them back. Others fear being dragged through a long, grueling process—first to get a diagnosis and then to find the right treatment.
Unfortunately, all these fears are legitimate. The diagnosis process for some mental illnesses can take years. It often takes several attempts to find the right medication. Even the right medication is likely to have long term side effects. Many people complain that they don’t feel like themselves when they’re on psychiatric drugs. In most places, it’s easier to get psychiatric drugs than it is to get proper therapy. Finding the right therapist can take several attempts—and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance it’ll be expensive too. All the options for treatment seem almost worse than just living with the illness.
Mental illness sufferers often lose friends or employment when their illness is shown or discovered. Some are even disowned by their families. Psychiatric wards and inpatient programs are unpleasant places with often condescending staff. Being locked up for weeks or months at a time also threatens to destroy whatever life the person’s built for themselves.
I’ve known several people who suffered from mental illness. I’ve heard the stories. Seven years of observation just to get diagnosed. Psychiatric drugs that work, but make you nauseous and shaky so you struggle to accomplish the day’s tasks. Or ones that don’t work at all. Condescending therapists. Being locked in a ward with people you can’t understand or get along with. Every fear listed above is reinforced by those stories—and I’ve faced them all in my own struggles with mental health.
So how can we eliminate these fears? We eliminate the reasons for fear. We need to focus on the way society treats people with mental illness. We need to educate people about mental illness. We need to educate people on mental health outpatient programs. We need to make therapists easier to access than psychiatric drugs. We need to make psychiatric wards places where people want to be. We need to make work places allow sick leave for mental health reasons. The system for treating mental illness needs a complete overhaul.
On the individual level, start by educating yourself and others. Encourage people to think about mental illness in a new way—including healthcare officials. Reach out to people suffering from mental illness. If someone close to you suffers from mental illness, don’t pull away. Support them on their journey and help them figure out what’s best for them. Remind them—and yourself—that it can be conquered and that they can still thrive.
For people suffering from mental illness, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’ll seek help—but if you feel your way of life is severely threatened by your illness, don’t delay because of fear. The longer you delay, the more you risk losing everything due to mental illness anyway.
Written by Dianna Gunn
Image by S. Cole