As a therapeutic therapist I work mostly with people suffering with mental illness. I also have lots of friends who are living with or supporting loved ones with mental illness, often described as the “invisible disability”.
Many of the people I work with therapeutically have been fortunate to spend much of their lives living with good mental health - mental illness has come as a huge shock to them. Some just want it to go away, understandably, so they can get on with their lives. There’s often a sense of shame, desperation and a perception of being weak, due to the continuing stigma attached with mental illness. Often their loved ones can struggle too, as they just want the person to be well again. In the case of some of my clients, this can heap huge amounts of responsibility onto them that can lead to further sabotage or delay recovery.
So, what is mental illness in layman’s terms – and what is the purpose of this blog? Very basically, mental illness is a brain-based condition that affect our thoughts, emotions, and our behaviours. It’s a given we all have brains. Yes, even those wonderful character’s you come across in life and think, “where on earth is their brain at?”. They have one too – though perhaps well hidden. So, now we’ve established we all have a brain, perhaps it’s easier to realise it’s more common than you may think that at some point in our lives we will face a mental health problem.
Generally, when someone has a mental illness, something has happened or changed in such a way that the person’s brain and the way it works has changed. The brain is an organ, and just like any other organ in our body, it can experience changes. It can heal or it can experience injury based on life experiences including trauma, poor sleep, poor diet, and unmanageable stress. The real difference between general physical illnesses and mental illnesses is that mental illness is related to problems that start in the brain. So why is there so much stigma attached to mental illness? If we have problems with our heart or other vital organs, is there the same level of stigma attached to the problem or recovery?
Anyway, talking about mental illness stigma is a whole other story. Although, I will say that because mental illness is an “invisible disability” and that a person may appear to all those around them to be coping on the outside, sadly it is the case this can have an incredible stigma. Why? Well because ‘some’ perceive the illness as being put on or think (voice) the person needs to get over it. If only it was that easy.
I was reminded this week of the importance of continuing to support people who are either suffering, or supporting someone in their life, long after they start to recover from their mental illness, because unlike many physical illnesses, we can’t put a time on full (or even acceptable level) recovery. When a person suffering mental illness starts to have good days, and then starts to have more good days, this is when those around them, and even the person themselves, expect recovery.
How many times have you asked a friend or a loved one how they are feeling after they’ve been poorly from a cold, or covid-related illness? It’s great to hear they are recovering or recovered, isn’t it? Recovery from general physical illness can be finite, so it’s easier to accept and move on. Indeed, your state of mind can dictate how quickly you can recover from a physical setback. But what if your state of mind is preventing recovery, as is the case with mental illness?
Anyway, the purpose of this blog (I told you I’d get to it at some point) is, those who are suffering mental illness will have good days and with the right help in place, they’ll start to have more and more good days, and if they’re fortunate they will return to full mental health. The road to full mental health will be dependent on many things, including support, understanding and empathy from loved ones. So, when you ask someone how they are and they tell you they are, “fine”, or having, “a good day”, remember they may still be on their road to recovery. They will still need you alongside with patience and empathy, and not tailgating. They may never return to how they were before because a change has occurred, but with help and support the person, your loved one, can return to full mental health. This is what we all want.
Thanks for reading and I hope it helps – Sandra (SCT Therapy – www.scttherapy.com)