Monday, 13 March 2017

Why Mental Illnesses Should Be regarded As Physical Illnesses

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In the blogging community when talking about the stigma that surrounds mental health, we often compare mental illness to physical illness. Saying something along the lines of you wouldn't make fun of someone with a physical illness like cancer or Down syndrome so why do so many people make so many flippant remarks about people with mental illnesses? 

This is a very accurate and a valid point, but actually, to some extent, mental illnesses can be regarded as physical illnesses. I appreciate this may not make a lot of sense but let me explain. 

Yes okay, they are called mental illnesses because they occur in the brain. Although they may be triggered by environmental factors as well primarily the reason why they happen is that of chemical imbalances and hormone changes within the brain. However, unless I'm really thick Isn't the brain a physical part of the body? 


Of course, it is! Therefore, I ask you what's the difference between having a 'broken brain' if you like and a ' broken leg' or having a ' poorly brain' and a ' poorly chest'? Errr... nothing! I don't see any difference at all between the two it's just because society has constructed mental illness to be this awful thing which we have 100% control over and it's somehow our fault we got unwell. 

But that isn't the case at all. To a large extent, we can't control what happens to us in our life's. We can't stop bad things from happening to us, and we can't prevent our brain from reacting in a certain way, it's just what it is. Unfortunate as breaking a leg or developing a chest infection. However, society never believes that the individual with one of these two illnesses caused it themselves and are given the time off work, sympathy and support yet if they want to get some time off work with depression or anxiety, they are given anything but.

When you have a chest infection you have physical symptoms; a sore chest, a cough, loss of voice, lethargy, etc. Well, if you think about it isn't that the same for mental illnesses. Take depression for example; your appetite may be increased or decreased, your sleep can be affected, you may be more tearful, and some even get more aches, pains and headaches. Depression isn't just an isolated case. Give me any mental illness, and I'll name you some physical symptoms that can occur while the sufferer deals with this illness. 

So if that's the case why don't we get told to man up when we have a broken leg, but we do if we have a panic attack. Why is it really easy to get time off work with a cold or flu but with depression, you've got more chance of finding a needle in a haystack. And even if you do get time off why is there such a negative stigma associated with it?

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Shouldn't people be happy that someone is taking time off work to look after themselves? If your mental health is poor, it affects every aspect of your life, from your relationships to your work productivity levels. You wouldn't expect someone with the flu which can barely get out of bed to drag themselves into work every day so why do we expect someone with severe depression to do the same? 

Now I'm not saying that depression is something that can be cured in a week with medication, of course, it can't. It's a long-term condition which affects an awful lot of people including myself. I have episodes of depression, it's always there buried beneath the surface, if you dig for long enough you will find it. However, sometimes it's more prominent. If someone is barely able to complete their work because they can't stop crying or is unable to concentrate on anything, is it really sensible to have them at work? 

If they had flu most would say no, however, change flu with depression and your response is a lot more mixed. How did we even get in this position in the first place? Well, that would be our good old friend social construction. Society creates labels for people based on norms and values. Over time mental illness has received a lot of negative connotations and in more modern times, press. From the days of alyssums and electric shocks to now using mental illnesses as adjectives and associating mental illnesses with criminals and murders, the understanding of mental illnesses is very negative. 

Which I think is quite understandable, but this isn't the 60's anymore. Technology and medical understanding have helped show us that anyone and everyone can be affected by a mental illness, in fact, that's 1/4 people in any given year. If that's the case why is there still such a stigma around mental illness? 

If more people took the perspective that mental illnesses are just physical ailments, they just affect a different part of the human anatomy and that all the major organs are equally as important as each other as without one performing its vital function it's likely the rest would be impaired or not work at all. If you look at it that way, the brain and mental illness are just the same as any other physical illness. 

I'm sorry that this post was primarily just one big ramble. It's just a bit of food for thought really. It's something I've been meaning to write about for a while now but never got around to it. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, as always X
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5 comments

  1. I've always thought it fascinating how mental health is still so separate from physical health. For a start mental healthcare is provided by separate trusts to acute medicine which seems bizarre to me! Why do we group together surgery, cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics etc. but leave out mental health?! I think a lot of this is that it HAS been viewed differently for a very long time and it's only in recent years that we're starting to apply a lot more science to mental health, linking it closer to neurology, neuroscience and other areas of physical health. I think it's time to stop sidelining mental health and bring it under the umbrella of all other aspects of health and medicine.
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Wellbeing & Lifestyle

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  2. I think you're totally right with this! Even though with all the publicity (particularly in the blogging world, although maybe that's just the blogs I follow) I'm pleased to see that the stigma is being challenged - but you're so right it's still there, especially when it comes to work, and we need to understand that it's still an illness, just like any other, and it's not often their fault and in order for people to get better they need to feel like they can. And this is done with the support of all the people around them!

    JosieVictoriaa // Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle

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  3. You're so right with this nicole! Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean its not there. Its still very limiting when you're suffering with anxiety or any mental health issue, it can stop you doing everything a broken leg can for example. I think more people need to understand this!

    Lucy | Forever September

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  4. Such a wise, sensitive and thought proking post. It's wonderful. It's such a shame that people who have very little understanding of mental health think it's something sufferers can just 'snap out of' it's terribly sad really. It's also sad when people question the need for medication. Diabetes, asthma all require medicine to support the body, our brains which control everything, certainly need assistance too if they're struggling to function. Xx you write so well xx I hope your week has been okay . . .

    Best wishes

    Keep Calm and start writing -
    www.23millymay25.blogspot.co.uk

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  5. Great article Nicole! I'd just like to add that actually, I think mental health is MORE important than physical health. Many physical ailments are actually CAUSED by poor mental health. The correlation between stress and many internal organ illnesses is very obvious.

    Yet there is still this obsession with sorting out the physical symptom (through unnecessary surgery or pills which often kill people or make things worse) rather than dealing with the root cause, which is mental.

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