Mental Illness is a Liar! Let me say that again, mental illness is a liar. What do I mean by that? I mean that all those thoughts that we carry around with us, “No one cares about me”, “My life is meaningless”; “If I don’t touch the doorknob 5 times something bad will happen”, “I can control my substance use” are examples of distortions of reality. A person is considered having a mental illness when those thoughts cannot be controlled over a long period of time. Most of us will never know what it is like to truly have a mental illness and that is a blessing. Mental illness is persistent over time and across all areas of one’s life.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss mental illness in our society. One of the core values of the United States is the idea that people should be independent, that they should be able to stand alone and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This principle can sometime lead to isolation and resistance toward getting help by those who have a mental illness. Therapy and medication management are considered tools for the weak minded, yet other equally biological conditions have no stigma, no sense of shame attached that deter people from getting appropriate medical attention.
In this age of scientific vigor, we are learning more and more about how our brain works and we are isolating factors that help us determine who is at risk to develop a mental illness. We are learning which experiences lead to long term emotional dysregulation and thought distortions. We are learning which treatment approaches show promise and for which conditions. We have begun to shape treatment around these evidence-based practices. All this scientific data will mean nothing if people are too afraid to seek help.
Stigma is one of the enemies of treatment for mental illness. It is the chain that stops us from getting help. It is the fear that we will only be seen as our disorder or that people will be afraid of us that keeps many from seeking the help that is needed. There have been a brave few in the public eye that have acknowledged their diagnoses and who have tried to stop the tide of stigma from consuming all in its path. The cure for stigma is to acknowledge those will mental illness and to see them as they are flawed but worthy of care, concern and our deepest regard.
My name is Lynda Guzman, I am the ACT Team Leader and have a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. PTSD is a disorder that means that something harmful happened to me and left me with emotional scars that were outside the realm of what could normally be expected. I suffered for years with flashbacks and nightmares, heightened anxiety and depression. I have used both medication and evidenced-based strategies to manage my symptoms to the point that I am considered well into recovery.
When I sit with my clients and I hear their stories I have an insight into what it is like to have a mental illness. I know how difficult it is to motivate yourself to try something new, to have faith that an intervention will work, or even that they might not feel as though they are worthy of being helped. I draw from myself all those good and bad experiences that I have had to bring hope and optimism to the equation. I remember what it felt like to be lied to by my mental illness, to think that no one cared or would ever care about me. Although these are distant memories for me, I realize that they are the everyday reality for some of our recipients. We all have the potential to recover and live productive, meaningful lives. If you have symptoms or know someone who does, please know that we are here for you. We will help you onto the road of recovery.
By Lynda Guzman, ACT Team Leader