Mental illness is complex. – mental health issues
Mental illness affects one in four people in the UK – meaning at least a few people you know live with a mental health issues.
But those people are not all experiencing the same thing. We need to stop talking about mental health issues as one mass of problems with one cure-all fix.
Ways of treating and helping each person will be different.
As someone who lives with both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder – which share similar symptoms but are totally different – I know firsthand what it’s like to have to treat two disorders differently.
Bipolar disorder is usually treated with medication, while borderline personality disorder is normally treated with psychological evaluation and therapy.
Both are very different treatments – even if they achieve similar results.
We should look at it this way when it comes to all mental illnesses.
Time after time I’ve watched people suggest ways for other people to cope with ‘mental illness’ or improve their ‘mental health’. These people don’t see mental illness for what it is – a range of disorders and illnesses that come with a whole variety of symptoms.
They see it as one blanket term, as if you either live with a mental illness or you don’t. They hear the term ‘mental illness’ and lump everyone’s experiences in together.
This is only lessening the understanding we so desperately need.
What works for one person won’t work for everyone
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Let’s look at it this way. Antidepressants aren’t going to help anyone who doesn’t live with depression. In fact, antidepressants in some disorders, such as mood disorders, can only worsen the symptoms – as they can trigger mania.
Mood stabilisers used in bipolar aren’t going to help people living with anxiety, and anxiety medication isn’t going to help anyone who doesn’t live with it.
It’s not just about medication. It’s about ways of coping.
‘You just need to eat better’, ‘have you tried one of those stress-reducing colouring books?’, ‘have you tried this medication?’
While all of the above statements may work for some mental illnesses, they won’t work for all of them.
There is no possible way to aim one coping mechanism at a large variety of mental health issues.
While all mental illnesses can be debilitating and awful to live with, some are more affect life more intensely than others. Some need dissecting more than others. Some people need more support than others, and some people choose to learn how to manage by themselves. Not everyone can simply take one pill a day and attend a therapy session and start feeling better – or start learning to cope, at least.
The problem is that we’re used to referring to mental illness as though all forms of it come together as one.
But we wouldn’t think of physical illness this way.
We wouldn’t put a bad cold in the same bracket as a broken leg. And we wouldn’t suggest people take steroids for a headache. We would never suggest one broad way to cope with a physical illness, because we understand that they all need separate attention.
So why can’t we do the same when it comes to mental health issues?
I get it, mental illness is harder to understand than physical illness. You can’t see it, and therefore perhaps those who’ve never experienced it firsthand won’t get that each form of mental illness warrants different treatment.
But I think the only way we can start teaching those who don’t understand is to educate them on the fact mental illness is more than feeling sad or desperately anxious.
If people realised just how complicated mental illness is, maybe they’d understand that treatment is just as tricky too.
The sooner we shake off this ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental illness, the sooner we’ll be able to say goodbye to the judgement and frustration that comes from people who don’t get that there’s more to mental illness than one or two ‘fixable’ emotions.
Yes, everyone has mental health that needs to be looked after. But not everyone has a mental illness. Everyone experience is different, and throwing out blanket statements and generic advice simply isn’t helpful.