Wednesday 29 August 2018

Mental vs Physical Illness: Stigma and Disability

By Roiben

I know a lot of people who struggle to see Mental Illness as a disability. Some of this is due to years of Stigma, perpetuated by a media and government which all too easily labels people as scroungers. We are accused of not trying hard enough, of just needing to pull our socks up and get on with it, and in doing so to, somehow, magically get better.

In my opinion Mental Illness is more often than not a Chronic Condition and very much fits the criteria of a disability. By way of an example, I have Type 1 Diabetes, which I manage with medication and changes to, and monitoring of, my diet and wellbeing. I have times when it is well controlled and pretty much routine day-to-day. I have other times when it is less controlled and I need to seek the advice of medical professions and maybe even go into hospital. I have been diabetic since I was four years old and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

I was first diagnosed with a Mental Illness when I was twelve years old. I have had times when I have been well, when my symptoms have been controlled with medications. I have had other times when I have been in crisis and needed medical intervention, changes to medication and therapy.

In my view, my Mental Illness does not go away in those periods when I am well. I am not cured. Instead, it is managed and controlled and therefore less problematic.

It astounds me that there is Stigma around the idea that people with Mental Illness can just choose to be well. It is rare for someone with diabetes or a sprained wrist to be told to think themselves better, so why do we do it with Mental Illness? Why does it have to have a time-scale before the person is clearly not putting the effort in to get better?

I would not choose to have the sometimes horribly disabling symptoms of my Mental Illness any more than I would choose to go into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). In either case I opt for medications, simply because that very medication is lifesaving.

We as a society need to realize that the mind, as complex and confusing as it can be, is a part of the body and has physical and psychological manifestations just like any other part of the body. The fact that my pancreas fails to produce insulin should not be any more believable or important than the fact that I have a Mental Illness.

Why do people have to be in absolute crisis with their Mental Illness before they are taken seriously and believed? Why is the emphasis placed on people actively acting on suicidal urges. Surely there should be recognition and a pathway for treatment long before someone attempts to act on them?

Surely there should be a prevention rather than cure model, like there often is for physical ailments? Shouldn’t we be doing more to view Mental Illness as an illness of a part of the body, as we do with Diabetes and Asthma? Both are chronic conditions that, despite facing their own Stigma, get much better treatment by medical professionals than someone who presents with a Mental Illness related issue. They also get much better treatment by the media, by the government and by society as a whole. Yes, Stigmas are still present, but people are much more rarely told to “just get over it” when they are hypoglycemic or having an asthma attack.

Mental Illness is a disability, and a very complex one at that. It requires far more understanding of nuances and individuality than illness with other parts of the body may require. The situation is the same, though. A part of the body is malfunctioning and may always malfunction going forwards. It requires appropriate treatment, attitudes and support. Without those treatments, healthy attitudes and support, the malfunction will get worse not better. Ultimately the person may stop attempting to get the help they need and very much deserve.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


1 comment:

  1. I wish I had confidence that seeking help would not be forever viewed as a weakness.