Imagine a crisis unfolding right before our eyes, its impact reverberating through every aspect of our lives. Yet, despite its devastating consequences, it remains shrouded in silence and secrecy, hidden behind closed doors and masked by society's reluctance to confront it head-on. This crisis, my friends, is the state of mental health—an alarming, often overlooked issue that demands our immediate attention and priority.
In today's article, we embark on a journey to unmask this invisible crisis and shed light on its implications, causes and consequences of ignoring mental health. Together, we will delve into the consequences of ignoring mental health issues, the urgent need to break the stigma surrounding it, the deep-seated impact it has on individual well-being, and the crucial role it plays in the health of our communities. But, my dear reader, don't despair, for there is hope within our grasp. We will dissect the ways in which we can collectively challenge and shift these harmful perspectives, creating a supportive environment that encourages seeking help without judgment. Like with anything, once we understand why we do what we do, we are more informed about how to change those behaviours and move forward in a practical and positive way.
How did we get here? Why has mental illness been ignored?
For too long, mental illness has been neglected and stigmatized in society. In the past, it was rarely discussed openly or treated properly. Mental illness was instead considered a form of weakness and was often swept under the rug; our history paints a picture of torture and pain, of individuals locked away and forgotten about, and although time has moved forward this poor treatment of people and their stories has been carried through time with us.
Prior to the Mental Health Act of 1959 the way that mentally ill people had been cared for created a population segregation. Often admitted to large asylums in rural locations, patients were separated from “normal” communities and often restricted from seeing family and friends. This segregation created a “fear of the unknown” with many having the misconception that patients with mental illness were dangerous, violent or unstable. Treatment of mentally ill people was often unpredictable and mostly involved trying to sedate and calm patients rather than treating their specific disorders and conditions. Since research into mental health was limited, as to are their treatments. Long-term admittance was another regular occurrence with most patients being admitted for years and some never being released. The introduction of community care made it possible to reduce hospital stays and for patients to be cared for at home, but this change wasn't made until the 1970s, still relatively recent in human history.
Mental health professionals were seen as last-resort treatments and reliable medical information wasn't widely available. Mental health facilities were often overcrowded and underfunded, leading to inadequate care and disregard for the seriousness of mental health conditions. Additionally, people experiencing mental health issues were often labelled as “crazy” or “dangerous” and subject to other forms of discrimination and prejudice.
If you still think mental health is viewed more openly now...what would you say now you know this Vogue cover was released in 2020!?
There are many factors through our collective history which have added to the misconception and misinformation about mental illness, and it will certainly take some time to overcome these stigmas, but it is our responsibility to try harder to improve these outdated ways of thinking...but first let's take a closer look at these misconceptions.
The Misconceptions of Mental Illness
People who are mentally ill are violent and dangerous. It’s still an ongoing perception especially when relating to certain serious mental illnesses that an individual is likely to be a danger to themselves or others. This statement is true in some limited cases however mental illness is a spectrum of disorders and conditions, diagnosed and undiagnosed alike. Not everyone who suffers from a mental illness is dangerous. A lack of education and fear of what we don’t know or understand has fed this misconception. Let's be mindful that what we see in fiction such as films and television is usually exaggerated or "created" for dramatic effect and is not always true to fact.
People who are mentally ill are lazy or work-shy. Some mental illnesses will cause an individual to have a drop in productivity which can go on to lead to physical ailments, a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape from. It can be difficult with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar to understand the dramatic changes in their personality, it's crucial to understand some of the smaller symptoms of these complex disorders such as lack of personal hygiene and make sure we don't get confused between what is the illness and what is the person. Someone will a mental illness whose work suffers, as a result, may find themselves unemployed and struggle to get back into employment due to further trauma caused by the loss in income. An employer may be reluctant to take on someone who has had periods of time out of work due to illness.
People who are mentally ill just aren’t trying hard enough to get better. Unlike physical illness and injury mental illness is rarely “seen” and therefore difficult to treat. Physical symptoms are often displayed but due to the ongoing stigma surrounding mental illness, an individual will try to hide their symptoms in public or opt to not go out at all as mental illness is still perceived in some cultures as a weakness. Many may consider their physical symptoms to be unrelated to their mental illness, their physical ailment may improve through treatment but their mental health will not, causing ongoing issues which can be a strain on their daily life and mood. Because you can not “see” mental illness there is a lack of understanding and opinions are formed that if you are physically well you just aren’t trying hard enough to get mentally well. What is often not considered is that for a broken arm, we’d expect a sling or for a broken leg a crutch and yet for a mental illness just sheer willpower is enough? Until the misconceptions about mental illness are changed there will always be those who will live by the “what can’t be seen can’t be real” mentality and those suffering will be the ones to deal with that pressure and stigma the most.
It is the responsibility of all the take the time to better understand mental illness.
Small things you can do to help:
Stop using derogatory terms.
Terms such as "crazy", "schizo", "mental" and "psycho" may seem harmless, but those with mental illness often suffer in silence, hearing these terms thrown around could push them further into hiding for fear of judgement. You don't know who is listening to your conversation.
Please stop saying "I'm a bit OCD" or "That gives me PTSD"
These are very real and very serious conditions, by using these blase statements, the severity connected to them is diluted and misinformation is spread. As someone with OCD, I can confirm that hearing anyone "label" themselves as OCD in this way is very annoying and it undermines the very real pain felt when you live with the condition. If the majority believe that OCD is simply liking a clean house, it makes it harder for me to explain what the condition really entails and likewise have those people believe me.
Don't believe everything you see
It's a struggle not to be drawn in by some of the incredible content available now but it's worth keeping in mind that all the television shows and films we see are created for maximum impact. They need to make money and tell a sensational story. More often than not, factoring in mental illness adds complexity to a character and depth to a story, but this is usually done inaccurately. I mean this in two ways, the first one being the actual symptoms and consequences experienced by the character with mental illness as well as the inaccurately in terms of treatment. Being mindful of these inaccuracies and doing your own research can stop the spread of misinformation.
The Implications of Ignoring Mental Health Issues
Ignoring mental health is not just a missed opportunity for personal growth; it has far-reaching implications that extend to all corners of society. Did you know that mental health disorders account for the largest proportion of disability worldwide, affecting over one billion people? It's a staggering statistic that cannot be ignored and yet we manage it.
The implications of ignoring mental health issues are far-reaching and affect not only individuals but also our communities as a whole. When mental health is not made a priority, the consequences are profound and can be felt in every aspect of our lives.
Communication: When we ignore mental health issues in ourselves, we unintentionally send a message to others to do the same. Together, by fostering open conversations, we can create a supportive environment where seeking help is not only accepted but actively encouraged.
Types of communication you can try:
Self-communication - Journalling
Professional - Therapy
Comfort - Friends/Family
Talk to a stranger - Samaritans
Productivity: We undermine the well-being and productivity of individuals by ignoring mental health issues. Problems caused by mental illness such as fatigue, fluctuating weight and low self-esteem can greatly impact a person's ability to function effectively, whether it's in the workplace, at school, or in their personal relationships. Untreated mental health issues can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and strained relationships, all of which have ripple effects on the overall health and vitality of our communities.
Furthermore, ignoring mental health perpetuates a cycle of suffering and stigma. When we fail to address mental health issues openly and honestly, we contribute to a culture of silence and shame. This silence prevents individuals from seeking the help and support they need, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and isolation. By not prioritizing mental health, we unintentionally send the message that it is something to be ashamed of, further compounding the barriers to seeking help.
Healthcare systems: The consequences of ignoring mental health also extend to our healthcare systems. When mental health is not given the attention it deserves, healthcare systems bear the burden of treating the physical symptoms that often result from untreated mental health issues. Mental health problems, if left unaddressed, can lead to physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and chronic pain. By not addressing mental health concerns early on, we place an unnecessary strain on healthcare resources and exacerbate the overall burden on our healthcare systems. It is up to us to be observant and make the connections.
The Impact on Societal Perspective
In order to truly address the silent crisis of mental health, it is essential that we tackle the pervasive stigma that continues to shroud this issue. Unfortunately, many still view mental health concerns as a sign of weakness or personal failure, perpetuating a culture of silence and shame.
This stigma not only prevents individuals from seeking the help they need, but it also hinders our collective ability to understand and empathize with those experiencing mental health challenges. By maintaining outdated beliefs and misconceptions, we unintentionally isolate those who are suffering, leaving them feeling misunderstood and alone.
Fortunately, there has been a growing recognition of the need to break down the barriers that contribute to the stigmatization of mental health. Efforts from advocacy groups, individuals sharing their stories, and the media have started to chip away at the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding mental illness. As a result, more people are becoming aware of the prevalence and significance of mental health, and conversations are starting to take place.
We have featured some of these groups and support networks in previous blogs:
However, there is still much work to be done. Shifting societal perspective requires a collective effort - one that involves education, empathy, and open-mindedness.
When individuals feel supported and empowered to address their mental health concerns, they are more likely to seek early intervention and treatment. This proactive approach not only improves individual well-being but also significantly reduces the strain on our healthcare systems.
The Impact on Individual Well-being
When it comes to mental health, the impact on individual well-being cannot be overstated. Untreated mental health conditions can have a profound effect on every aspect of a person's life, from their relationships to their career and overall sense of fulfilment. When individuals are struggling with their mental health, it can become incredibly challenging to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
We are discussing mental health as a whole in this article, and yet for a second, I'd like to focus on anxiety disorders. Anxiety tends to underpin a lot of mental illnesses and although it can exist on its own, you usually see mental illnesses in pairs, something we discuss in another blog: Why do mental health conditions usually come in pairs?
Anxiety is a cycle, as you can see from the image below. The problem occurs when an individual can't move past 4 and it loops back around to 1. This process can go on for years causing many detrimental issues in life such as :
Fractured or strained relationships/friendships
Avoidance of people and places
Decrease in physical wellness
Lack of motivation and productivity
Ignoring mental health illness can lead to poor quality of life and missed opportunities if not addressed.
The impact of mental health issues extends beyond the individual. It can also affect loved ones and the immediate community. If communication of mental illness has not occurred, close relationships could be affected simply due to confusion or frustration.
By prioritizing mental health and creating an environment that encourages open conversations, we establish a foundation of support and understanding. This, in turn, empowers individuals to seek the help they need, without fear of judgment or stigma. When people feel supported and comfortable addressing their mental health concerns, they are more likely to take proactive steps towards early intervention and treatment. This not only benefits them individually but also significantly reduces the strain on healthcare systems.
The Role of Mental Health in Community Health
Mental health plays a crucial role in community health, as the well-being of individuals directly impacts the well-being of the community as a whole. When members of a community are mentally healthy, they are better equipped to contribute their skills, knowledge, and ideas towards the betterment of society. On the other hand, a community that neglects mental health can suffer from decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, and a higher burden on social services.
Negative outcomes on the community:
Ignored mental health can directly impact community safety. Unaddressed mental health issues can contribute to:
Increase in crime rates
Stain on local health care and social care
By recognizing and addressing mental health concerns, communities can help prevent these negative outcomes and create safer environments for everyone.
Positive effects of better mental health in the community:
Moreover, mental health influences economic prosperity within a community. A mentally healthy workforce is:
Higher job satisfaction
When mental health is prioritized, it not only benefits individuals but also contributes to a thriving and prosperous community.
Acknowledging the urgency of this silent crisis and taking action to prioritize mental health is essential. By doing so, we can promote a society that values and supports everyone's well-being, creating a ripple effect of positive change that extends far beyond the individual. It is time to address mental health head-on and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead a fulfilling and mentally healthy life.,
By ignoring this silent crisis, we undermine the well-being of individuals and communities alike. It is time to break the stigma, foster open conversations, and create a judgment-free environment where seeking help is encouraged. Let's prioritize mental health, initiating the change that will truly make a difference. Remember, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members." So, let's stand together, supporting one another on the journey toward mental well-being.