What if we treated physical illness like depression?
No matter how far we have come as a society (and we have made great strides), there still exists a very real lack of understanding towards mental illness. This in turn further perpetuates the stigma which has a knock on effect for those affected by it, who do not feel comfortable disclosing, which in itself can create numerous problems.
But what if we applied this very same attitude to physical symptoms? What would happen in a society where we had some of the below attitudes?
"I get that you have food poisoning, but you could at least make an effort for us."
"Have you tried not having the flu?"
"I don't think it is healthy for you to take medication every day just to feel normal. Don't you worry it is changing who you are?"
"Well lying in a hospital bed doesn't seem to be doing you any good, so perhaps we should try something else?"
"I get that you have a debilitating illness, but can't you at least try and do something productive?"
I have a friend who is diabetic and has to inject himself daily. I wouldn't dream of casting aspersions on him taking medication every day and how this may look to others. Mental illness, much like physical illness can have a profound impact on the individual. Nobody would actively choose to be affected by a health condition which impacts on their levels of enjoyment, motivation and general happiness any more than somebody would choose to have a broken leg, a punctured lung or even a limb removed. Yet we still have a lack of compassion for people affected by mental illness.
We have all experienced physical pain which allows us to be able to identify with those who suffer physical symptoms, however not all of us will have experienced prolonged emotional anguish which can sometimes explain the lack of understanding.
Remember many physical scars will heal, but some emotional scars last forever and play their part in a constant daily battle, within which, some see no end in sight. We need to work towards dedicating the same level of understanding and support to mental illness as we do toward more somatic conditions. Only then will people feel more comfortable disclosing, identifying the right support and ultimately winning the battle against stigma.
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About Jason Hanson
I am a qualified and accredited counsellor and run my own practice out of my home in Mansfield. In 2011 I wrote and delivered national training attended by over 350 staff. In 2013 I co-wrote a book on relationships which received a highly commended award from the BMA. I am a guest columnist for the local paper around mental health topics.