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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mental Health: Why "Crazy" is so Detrimental

I've heard several stories recently, both fiction and non, where the protagonists were advised to see a therapist or take medication for mental or emotional issues that they were taking, and the response was, "But I'm not crazy!!"

Frankly, this bothers me on many levels. According to NIMH (The National Institute for Mental Health), over one-fourth of the American population suffers from a diagnosable disorder. That's one in every four Americans! And beyond that are the many who do not, perhaps, have a mental illness but need help dealing with traumatic life events or other difficulties.

The point being that seeing a therapist, taking medication, or eating differently and exercising to treat mental illness does not make you "crazy". If anything, those who do seek help and treatment should be a society that persists in stereotyping anyone who even hints at a mental diagnosis, it takes a lot of balls to take active steps toward bettering yourself.

So why is it that seeking help makes us feel like we might be "crazy"?

Societal perception plays into it in a big way, but familial conditioning does as well. Perhaps your mental illness is inherited, and you dealt with traumatic incidents during your formative years as a direct result of a mentally ill relative. It can seem like a curse, perhaps even a death sentence. Some families don't believe in medication or therapy, others just don't understand it. A lack of support from loved ones often keeps people from seeking help, even though they would benefit greatly from it.

Another huge factor is admitting that something might be wrong. Our society, as many societies, prides itself on individuality, independence and innovation, even as it seems to expect conformity and quiet agreement. Seeking help makes it a reality that something might be wrong, that we might not be one hundred percent in control of ourselves. It's a difficult, uncomfortable place to be in and it takes a lot of nerve.

The important thing to remember is that no one has to be made aware of your decisions to seek treatment, or to change your lifestyle. For the anti-anxiety lifestyle, it can easily be called a great weight-loss diet or just a healthier lifestyle. Doctors, of course, are bound to confidentiality, and it's no one's business but your own if you are seeing a therapist or taking medications.

Though a lifestyle change is very helpful for any number of reasons, the importance of medications can't be downplayed. Taking medication is a personal decision, and it does not make you any weaker to choose to take it. Taking medication, or staying off of it, is a decision to be made between your doctor and yourself.

Many people seem almost bound and determined to cling to outdated, detrimental, derogative terms like "crazy", but it's important to remember that living with a mental illness does not in any way make you "crazy". In fact, you're just like millions of other Americans...and we're all in this together.

The Calm Cook

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