As Mental Awareness Week comes to a close, it is the hope of many that some progress was made toward helping those without the disease see behind the guise of misconception and that encouragement was given to those who do have mental health issues, allowing them to finally step out into the light. Mental illness is not about just feeling down or having an inability to focus upon one thing. It can penetrate the state of mind and, unfortunately, many people who have mental health problems may not even be aware of it.
In those cases, instead of receiving the health and compassion that they should, they are ridiculed for being slower than the rest or for being unable to perform as others expect them to. The external challenges and pain may not even be the worst factor. Generally, people are much harder upon themselves than others. Therefore, not only is the person who is unknowingly suffering from mental illness receiving unnecessary judgement from outsiders, they are also most likely being brutal to themselves through internal dialogue.
If they are unaware of their condition, the expectations they have of themselves simply cannot be met. The person may go through their entire life feeling like a loser and not accomplishing that which they could accomplish if they knew that they only needed to adjust their approach to life in order to offset the effects of the illness. Awareness of the issue would also allow them to be a bit more forgiving of themselves and to pace themselves more appropriately in conducting day-to-day activities.
Unfortunately, the impact of mental illness does not only affect a person’s lifestyle, but recent studies show that it may also affect the length of their life as well. Researchers at Oxford University released finding that equated the life expectancy of a person with mental illness to that of a heavy smoker. The findings were gathered from a review of 20 clinical studies reporting the mortality risk rates between individuals with substance abuse problems, dementia, autism, learning disabilities, and mental health problems. As a whole, the studies gathered data from over 1.7 million people and 250,000 deaths. All of the data was compared to that of research findings in cases of heavy smoking. They discovered in all cases that the mortality risk rate was similar to or greater than that of a smoker. The reduction in the rate of life expectancy for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and drug abuse alone ranged from 9 to 24 years.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a wide variety of resources to help individuals cope and live with mental illness including suggestions for the siblings and family members of mentally ill patients. They also offer several educational and support programs to help individuals and families who are dealing with mental health problems. Organizations such as this that support mental health victims are helping to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and, in doing so, are going behind the guise of its public image and allowing those who suffer from its wrath to finally be able to come out into the light. And they are welcome with open arms.
Opinion By Bridgette Bryant
Photo by Armando G Alonso – Flickr License