MENTAL illness, sometimes referred to as a disability is one of the most misunderstood health conditions, sometimes leaving those who suffer from it side-lined by co-workers, friends, strangers and even family members.
But what is mental illness and how are people, especially those who aren’t directly affected, dealing with it to help those who suffer from it? Mental illness refers to a myriad of mental health conditions, disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. There are many examples of mental health that include but are not limited to depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors like overindulgence in alcoholic beverages and the intake of dangerous and addictive drugs.
And also, mental disorders may not always be permanent features in one’s life but can also visit you from time to time based on your state of mind at a specific time in your life. And while many may associate mental illness with poverty and bad luck, even witchcraft in some quarters of society, research has proven that mental illness can affect anyone regardless of their societal standing.
A good example in this instance will be the recent hospitalisation of rapper, producer and businessman, Kanye West, who broke down in the middle of his US tour.
Referring to a situation that transpired earlier this year when a number of psychiatric patients lost their lives in Gauteng, a Tembisa based social activist, Tumelo Marole said that mentally challenged patients were being treated as second, even third class citizens, “It’s terrible if you look at how people with mental challenges are treated. They’re called mad, crazy, and that doesn’t serve a purpose of integrating them into society.” Marole further blamed families that sent their mentally challenged away and never visit them. “We have families that go and abandon their loved ones in mental health institutions leaving them in the care of strangers. Families need to understand that these are human beings and that they need the loving nature of families, they are not disabled per se but rather differently abled,” he said.
Marole said it was important that families, friends and strangers knew that there were different kinds of mental illnesses and that they could be dealt with differently to achieve the same goal. He said, “The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depressive disorders. While everyone experiences strong feelings of tension, anxiety, or sadness at times, a mental illness is present when these feelings become so disturbing and overwhelming that people have great difficulty coping with day-to-day activities, such as work, enjoying leisure time, and maintaining relationships.”
According to studies, at their most extreme, people with a depressive disorder may not be able to get out of bed or care for themselves physically. People with certain types of anxiety disorder may not be able to leave the house, or may have compulsive rituals to help them alleviate their fears. Other types of mental challenges include schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder.
What has become common is that when someone is mentally challenged their communities, instead of supporting them and treating them equally as human beings they treat them with suspicion, even pity, Marole further said. “There’s no need for this behavior from our communities as we need a more supporting.”