Our dreams for our children
Every parent has hopes, dreams, and aspirations for their child. On the most basic level, we want our children to be successful in whatever path they choose to take. A teacher of mine once said a sign of being a successful parent is that your child no longer needs you. That doesn’t mean they don’t want a relationship with you. It means you have given them the tools and taught them the life skills to “make it on their own”. Through your guidance and parenting, they have matured to be able to handle life’s constant “ups” and “downs.”
Dreams can be shattered in seconds
Imagine for a moment, that during one of your pre-natal exams, the doctor informs you that your child has down syndrome. Intellectually we know these people can be successful in life, some even getting married, holding meaningful jobs, and living independently. However, emotionally we usually feel different. We believe their lives will be filled with pain, struggles, and unfulfilled needs. Our hopes and dreams for our child have been shattered.
The same feeling exists when a child is diagnosed with a mental illness (MI) such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar or the like. This should not, however, be the go-to emotion. Don’t get me wrong, having a relative with mental illness definitely has challenges that other families won’t see, but we need to understand, that with the correct mind frame, support, and treatment, they too can be successful. dreams should not be shattered just because someone is diagnosed with MI.
None of us are immune from this bias
I myself have been surprised multiple times at the success of my own colleagues who suffer from MI. A psychiatrist I worked with had been through many ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) treatments to help battle his major depression and he was an excellent doctor. A boss of mine at a large hospital had bipolar disorder and functioned as well as any other boss. When I learned of these people’s illnesses I realized my own shock was due to stigma. This existed within me even though I regularly tell people that someone with MI can be successful, have families, careers, and lead otherwise ordinary lives. This mindset is due to negative media coverage, social stigma, and general lack of knowledge about the illnesses.
Bias also changes how those with MI are treated
When someone is diagnosed with a physical illness we have compassion for the person and family affected. MI has always been different. It carries a heavy stigma, adding to the individual and family’s feelings of shame and guilt. But, why is mental illness viewed differently than physical illness? Research has shown that just like physical conditions MI is caused by an interplay of both genetics and environment. Genetics predispose each individual at various levels, and then life events “trigger” a bodily reaction much like cancer. In fact, many physical symptoms such as upset stomach, headache, constipation and muscle aches are primarily caused by the mind-body interaction.
Even the way we talk about supposedly medical versus mental illness is different. We don’t say, “Jake is cancer” but rather, “Jake has cancer.” But we do say, “Jake is schizophrenic” or “Jake is bipolar”. That’s not the way it should be viewed! Just like Jake has a disease called cancer, he also has a disease called schizophrenia. Just like someone with cancer is suffering tremendously and needs extra support so too does a person and their family when they are ill with bipolar disorder. The only difference between mental and physical illnesses are the artificial lines that we ourselves draw. Life with mental illness is about struggle, challenge, and learning to manage it. Ups and downs, relapses, and behavioral oddities are the norm. But that does not mean these people should be shunned and not given a fair chance in life.
The status quo need not continue
We need to reframe how we view mental illness, and those suffering from it. By doing so we can destigmatize it, align our emotions with the facts, and ultimately help the individuals and families who are affected. I encourage you to take “the pledge”, stand up to the stigma and start supporting those who need it so they could fulfill all of our dreams and aspirations.
How have you experienced bias related to mental illness? Is their any basis for mental and physical diseases to be treated differently? Please share your comments and questions below.