Understanding Mental Illness Better

May is Mental Illness Awareness Month. Better awareness of what Mental Illness is good but so often this can come from a negative connotation, as a description of a criminal.

This phrase is being used more and more in social media and on the news. Mental illness is used as a generalized descriptor for a varying range of brain diseases. While it is great that there is a greater awareness of mental health in this country, it also spotlights the great divide there is in treatment and attitude towards it. Because there is a stigma in our society for this kind of health issue. Depending on your health insurance coverage, the help and medications that one may need is not always readily available.

There is no one way that mental illness can look either. Not everyone dealing with a diagnosis of some kind of mental illness will not necessarily look or act how most of expect. This generalization can be dangerous as those who are diagnosed feel the need to hide it. Perhaps fearing judgement, having people look at them differently. Let’s face it, when someone is diagnosed with a physical disease, we know better how to deal with that. But a mental illness, which is something that cannot be cured but only maintained. It is scary and foreign for most of us.

My family is all to familiar with the ravages of mental illness. It is in some sense a part of our legacy, my grandmother was Schizophrenic as was my mother. I did not know my grandmother as she passed away when I was a baby. My mother though, I had in my life until her passing twenty-four years ago now. In fact this month is the anniversary of her death.

What I recall is her warmth and sweetness. The times I could not sleep, she scratched my back until I drifted off. She liked to dance in the car when a good song came on the car radio. But her illness stole her from my sisters and I. Breakdowns meant that mommy would be in the hospital and that she could not be with us. Then there were the times when the combination of medications meant she stared off into space, disconnected from the rest of us. She was not violent as some schizophrenia can be.

The times her medications worked for us, we had our mommy back. She lived her life, living with our grandfather not far from us. The day to day care of myself went to my aunt and uncle. She was in my life, picking me up from school a few days a week and spending weekends over at her place. But her illness left her in a stagnated place, she was unable to hold down a job for too long.

Today, it can be different, someone with mental illness can hold down a job, raise their families. This is if access to right medications and therapies is given. For so many, it is not. Either there is a cultural bias against treatment or simply not being able to afford it. There can be this picture of what someone with mental illness can look like, and it is not always a good one. Which can lead to people hiding their illness or even avoiding getting treatment altogether.

Mentally ill are not people that need to be kept away from or be frightened of. So many need to know that they are loved and will continue to be loved. We also need to understand the scope and breadth of Mental illness, to stop generalizations. Because until we do the lack of understanding and compassion will continue.

Do research, talk to those in your life who deal with this in their lives. Ask questions and most of all love those who are fearlessly. Because all anyone really longs for is to know they are loved and cared for no matter what.

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