As a Scottsdale psychiatrist, I view mental illness as a physiological disorder. Mental illness almost always has nothing to do with character, integrity, morality, or any other issue. Most often mental illness has to do with an organ’s inability to regulate certain chemicals, neurotransmitters, or hormones. Once the public learns about the physiological causes of mental illness, the stigma should go away which often causes people to postpone seeking treatment for depression, anxiety, or any other mental issue.
Destigmatizing mental illness is one of my primary goals as a Scottsdale psychiatrist
Life’s stress can trigger the onset of situational depression or anxiety, but for the most part mental illnesses are a result of the brain or glandular system failing to produce the proper levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain. This can be caused by other medical conditions, genetics, or an environmental situation which led certain genes to “malfunction or mutate”. Recent studies have shown that the PET scans of the brain of a depressed person are much different from those of someone who is not depressed. This is more proof of the physical groundings of mental illness. One of my goals as a Scottsdale psychiatrist is destigmatizing mental illness through awareness and education about its physiological nature. I hope that someday most of the general public or at least my sphere of influence will develop an appreciation for mental illness.
The stigma of mental illness is nothing short of abhorrent. Society and most cultures never seem to have any difficulty in referring to someone with aberrant behavior as crazy, or nuts, or insane… Frankly when people make light of mental illness or outright degrading remarks, they are in ignorance, laughing at people with bodily illnesses. These illnesses can be just as debilitating and are statistically one of the major causes of disability resulting in many days lost from work. It doesn’t help when their family members tell them that they just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back in the saddle. Unfortunately the manifestations of many mental illnesses presents itself behaviorally, though we are still accountable for our actions, we need to empathize with the reasons driving the behavior. Just ask a 16 year old young man and a 65 year old man about the differences in their behaviors and thought patterns and you will appreciate the impact of how our hormones impact our thought life. Destigmatizing mental illness is a very serious matter to individuals and the community and neglecting the mentally ill can be very costly.
Destigmatizing mental illness will encourage many to seek treatment
From a medical perspective and treatment approach, because of the stigmatization of mental illness, surveys have shown that only 50% of people with symptoms of depression (a very serious medical condition) were receiving treatment for this illness. Typically these individuals suffer with these symptoms for almost 10 years before seeking help. The stigma of mental illness was cited as the primary reason for this delay. Knowing the pain and anguish that people experience as a result of mental illness I find these statistics appalling and unacceptable, especially when I know that help and relief is available to them.
Now to add insult to injury, the stigmatization of mental illness also increases the debilitating symptoms of the illness, and studies have shown that certain illnesses such as depression, if left untreated, might cause neurological cell damage and death. One of my goals in developing a website for my practice is to inform the public about the true causes and underlying physiological nature of mental illness. I speak with patients who have lived with the horrible symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia for years before seeking treatment. Once many of these individuals begin their therapy, often the medication begin to alleviate the symptoms in days if not weeks. I have spoken with patients who were depressed for 50 years and never knew what a day without depression was like until they began treatment. I have treated a woman who states that she remembers being depressed at the age of 3 and crying while on the playground. Only recently with treatment was she even able to verbalize this to me. I see adults who were barely able to get through high school with their ADHD, now able to go back to college and get straight A’s. I know that I see miracles daily with these medical treatments. It’s amazing to see peoples’ lives changed for the better.
I am encouraged that we are beginning to see campaigns related to destigmatizing mental illness on television and hope to see more public education and awareness. Many celebrities have come out and made their mental illnesses known in an effort of destigmatizing mental illness. One day society will truly see mental illness for what it is – a physical condition, the disparaging remarks will subside, the stigma will vanish, and patients will seek treatment much sooner. I also put great hope in genetic engineering and the wonderful discoveries that are being made in isolating the genetic causes of mental illness thus leading ultimately hopefully to a cure for these devastating illnesses.
Mental illness is a serious physiological condition that carries with it symptoms which are often among the most painful of all diseases; and can cause a great deal of damage to the body if left untreated. Please remember that a joke or loose comment about someone being crazy or a nut is a joke about a person with a bodily illness. Please join me in the effort to destigmatize mental illness and encourage those around you to seek help if necessary. NAMI is a wonderful organization which offers support for families, patients, and information to increase public awareness about mental illnesses.