I’m a mess.. and so are you!

I have been reflecting on Catholics and Mental Health lately.  Probably in light of being asked to speak about this topic to a group of lovely young women, all just starting off in life and keen to hear about how rosy life is.  I feel like I’m leading lambs to the slaughterhouse.  Completely oblivious little lambs who think everything is hunky dory.  I hope it is.

I hope they don’t do what I did, and ignore the whispers of their body telling them all is not well.  I hope they don’t wait for their body to scream at them like I did.  I hope they don’t ignore the early warning signs of an anxiety disorder, the butterflies in my stomach which would strike at weird times when I wasn’t actually worried about anything, in fact usually when I was at my most relaxed, or just driving along in the car or just hanging out washing.  I hope they don’t explain away these whispers from the organ that is responsible for every other part of our body’s function – the brain – as some sort of weird stomach ailment.  Something physical, not something, God forbid, “psychological”.

Source

I have a lot of baggage about mental illness.  I’ll call it that although I prefer the term “brain organ dysfunction”.  I think that there is great need to reduce the stigma – mostly due to ignorance, or to bad experiences with undiagnosed and / or untreated dysfunction.  It is invisible (to the naked eye and current medical screening tests) so therefore has an extra dimension of conjecture and misinformation to contend with.
Perhaps to use a more physical, visible example :  If I knew someone who refused to do anything about a large tumour growing on their face, who didn’t even want to admit it was there, who said things like: “I think I’m spending too much time in the sun/eating the wrong foods/don’t want to become dependent on drugs/don’t have a problem – you do/it’s because of their stressful relationship with x/their bad job… etc etc”.  If that person began to experience really awful symptoms, like pus running out of their tumour, extreme pain, no rest from discomfort, increasing disfigurement, but still persisted in their previous statements, then I would probably think it was the worst thing in the world to have a tumour.  I would perhaps think that I would want to avoid ever getting a tumour, that nothing worse could possibly ever happen.  I might start to avoid the person, to think they needed help but bought into their lies about their rationalisations and really feel entirely helpless.  I might start thinking that all people with facial tumours are somehow responsible for their fate and actually blame them for it, as deep down I know that somehow the approach they’ve taken is faulty, even if I don’t really know any other options.

Problem??.. what problem ?? (Incidentally, this lady’s story actually mirrors what many experience in their mental health journeys, and hers is a visible problem!)

Now to rephrase using the words mental illness:

If I knew someone who refused to do anything about a mental illness, who didn’t even want to admit it was there, who said things like: “I think I’m spending too much time in the sun/eating the wrong foods/don’t want to become dependent on drugs/don’t have a problem – you do/it’s because of my stressful relationship with x/my bad job… etc etc”.  If that person began to experience really awful symptoms, like extreme mental pain, no rest from mental discomfort, increasing disfigurement(perhaps due to an eating disorder) and lack of function, but still persisted in their previous statements, then I would probably think it was the worst thing in the world to have a mental illness.  I would perhaps think that I would want to avoid ever getting a mental illness, that nothing worse could possibly ever happen.  I might start to avoid the person, to think they needed help but bought into their lies about their rationalisations and really feel entirely helpless.  I might start thinking that all people with mental illness are somehow responsible for their fate and actually blame them for it, as deep down I know that somehow the approach they’ve taken is faulty, even if I don’t really know any other options.

And what about if those around the person denied the tumour?  What if they were telling the sick person all those things?  It makes it so much more difficult for a vulnerable person to seek help if those closest to them are not encouraging them to get help.

I can’t stress enough in my opinion that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness is the real culprit to a large part of the stigma around this issue.

You would be surprised at how many people around us have well managed brain organ dysfunction, myself included,  for which they take responsibility and obtain great treatment which enables them to function.  I am very grateful that God helped intelligent people develop many of the treatments used by medicos today that were not available 100 years ago.  Things like insulin injections, antibiotics, TB treatment, leprosy / Hansen’s disease treatment and, yes, SSRIs (selective serotonin uptake inhibitors) aka anti depressants.  Thank God I am still able to serve others and not spend my days incapacitated.  A lot of intelligent, capable people have been rendered immobile over the years by mental illness when there was no treatment available.

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