25% Can Feel What 18% Have
As I wait in line at the grocery store, I notice a tickling feeling in my pocket. “bzzzzzzzzz.” I pull out my phone and check who is calling. With my phone now in hand, I see the time, the date, and my wallpaper picture. What I don’t see is any sign of a missed call. “I swear I felt it ring,” I inwardly think. But no matter how much I try to convince myself, the fact remains: my phone did not ring.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 25% of the population each year, 81 million people, experience symptoms of mental illness at various levels of intensity. This can refer to passing hallucinations such as when sleep deprived or waking up, fleeting paranoid thoughts, secret delusions, and others. Today it might be me; tomorrow it might be you. 18% of the population suffers from a diagnosable mental illness and as shown by NAMI, it’s even more common to experience mere symptoms of one. If so many feel the debilitating symptoms, why is mental illness so stigmatized?
Normalizing Ends Stigma
When treating people suffering from mental illness, a large emphasis is put on attempting to de-stigmatize their illness to lessen the impact. Normalizing what they are going through is key to this process.
It is nearly impossible to go through life without experiencing a loss of some sort. For many, events of this nature prove to be traumatic. This trauma can lead to short-term symptoms of mental illness (such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia). However, the majority of those who experience these symptoms do not experience them with the same intensity of a full-fledged mental illness.
Through paying attention to these feelings and senses, we should be able to get a better understanding of the even more severe difficulties of those who are suffering from mental illness on a daily basis for years on end. Imagine you have a similar experience to that which I had with the imagined phone call referenced above. Now imagine feeling that over and over and over again. Consider the impact. We should not think lesser of those who suffer despairingly. Rather, we should draw upon our experiences to develop an approach should be one of true empathy and increased level of care.
It’s Not Just Voices in Your Head
MRI studies have shown that when a person with schizophrenia hears a voice in their head, the part of their brain that records a voice is physically active. This mirrors the physical activity of one who hears a voice from another person talking to them. In other words, two people hearing voices (one real and one not) have brains that react the same. Mental illness is not a simple inconvenience or annoyance; it is an illness with real symptoms and effects
One of the main differences between those who have occasional mental illness symptoms and those with a mental illness is the extent to which one’s life is affected. Nevertheless, we all have the ability and need to understand the reality that those diagnosed live with and suffer with on a daily basis. For some, this can be accomplished by attuning themselves to the similar symptoms they experience on a far less severe and frequent basis. The more we can empathize with others and foster normalization, the less stigma there will be.
Do you agree with the need to address the mental health stigma? What do you think of the author’s message of empathy? Please share your questions, suggestions, and comments below.