Is Mental Illness an Epidemic in Our Country?

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Image credit: photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash.

When it was announced that there were 18 school shootings for the year 2018, many dissected just what defines a school shooting, and declared that the stunning number was inflated, when in reality, even one school shooting is too many.

What will it take for us to really grasp the fact that something is real, that there is a real mental illness issue in our country and that we need to find a way to treat people who are plagued with it? 

In the aftermath of the horrific school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida by Nikolas Cruz, isn’t it time to finally take a look at the implications of mental illness? So many of us are blaming it on guns and the lack of gun control, and even though this is a contributing factor, what we are really addressing here is mental illness. 

The Blame Game

It is easy for us to blame this on the lack of gun control, the parents, the manner of upbringing, video games, or on political unrest. However…

  • Mentally healthy people do not shoot children and adolescents at school. 
  • Mentally healthy people don’t set off bombs at rock concerts. 
  • Mentally healthy people don’t sexually abuse Olympic athletes. 
  • Mentally healthy people don’t emotionally, physically or sexually abuse their partners or children. 
  • Mentally healthy people don’t sexually harass their employees. 

This is not to minimize or excuse the actions of those who performed horrific acts. This is instead an opportunity for us to look at what is at the bottom of this so that we can begin to acknowledge that mental illness is real. Then for us to decide as individuals, and as a society, what are we willing to do about it? 

A Heavy Stigma for Many

These examples of mentally ill people performing violent and devastating acts are certainly the extreme cases and often the obvious ones. However, in our everyday life there are those of us, and those we love, who suffer with many forms of mental illness that are not always violent, or even recognized. 

  • Some of us are riddled with anxiety that interferes with our ability to live a life with joy and ease. 
  • Others of us experience depression, either low-grade, or severe, and anywhere in between. 
  • Some of us think of suicide on a regular basis as a way out of the emotional pain and many follow through with this action.
  • Those who suffer with psychosis and hear voices and experience hallucinations in which we see and hear things that aren’t there.
  • There are some of us who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of serving in a war, being a victim of crime, suffering childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or living through a traumatic event such as 9/11.
  • Some of us suffer with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which can create havoc within our relationships, our employment, family life and physically.

Mental Disorders Aren’t Always Obvious 

Often when we talk about mental illness people view it as someone who is violent and angry. It is assumed that violence clearly comes under the umbrella of mental illness, or to the other extreme, it is minimized in that, He’s just angry, but mental illness is so much more than that. Mental illness can present as the opposite. This is where mental illness is very quiet. 

It might be the kid, or adolescent, who always does what they are asked to do. They might be more withdrawn, isolated, and often it is easy to miss a need to intervene.

It is easier to see mental health problems if a kid, or an adolescent, is acting out, or behaving in a way that’s oppositional, or in an adult who acts out in road rage in their car. But more often it’s the quiet, the unseen, the invisible, that don’t receive the therapy or treatment they might need. 

Mental Illness Is Often Invisible 

Mental illness is not something that can be seen and if we are not in touch with ourselves to know that something isn’t feeling right within us, we can miss it, or ignore it, or go in denial, or not see it in our loved ones.

Often there are no outward signs like with a physical illness. There is no blood test to make a diagnosis. Mental illness can be present in the “most unlikely individuals”.  We may miss mental illness when we are or our loved one is a successful physician, lawyer, executive, business owner, competent and organized PTA mom, or basketball coach.

Despite what we see on the outside that may not be what’s happening on the inside. There may be a presence of real emotional pain and distress.

A mental illness diagnosis doesn’t always receive the same compassionate response from our friends and loved ones as a physical diagnosis. Not many will offer to bring chicken soup for our mental health and wellbeing. 

It is 2018, yet there is still a stigma around entering therapy or treatment even though mental illness and therapy is more accepted than it ever was. 

We don’t speak of it as much as we do of physical disease, for instance, and one reason for this is the stigma attached to mental illness that casts it as something that discredits or disgraces a person who has it.

Elly Vintiadis Ph.D., Psychology Today.

Opening Our Hearts and Minds

Too often we are left looking for signs of mental illness that we might have missed after a tragic event.

If we begin opening our minds to identifying and accepting symptoms of a mental illness before a tragedy occurs, and presenting with an attitude to our loved ones and friends that mental illness is a disease, then we might be able to encourage someone to receive treatment or psychotherapy.

If we suffer from a physical ailment, or notice that our loved ones do, we usually don’t hesitate to obtain treatment if we believe it might make us feel better. Our own mental health, and those of our loved ones, would benefit from the same care.

Many of us, or our loved ones, who might suffer from a mental illness may look healthy. Our bodies are not preventing us from participating in all facets of life as a physical illness might, but our mind does.

Therefore, we might blame ourselves, or look for a way to fix what doesn’t feel right on our own. We may fear that others would judge us, or think we are merely complaining, instead of accepting that we might need help, or referring those we love for psychotherapy or treatment. 

Let Us Help

If you, or your loved ones, struggle with mental illness, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling located on Long Island can help.

Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to cope with mental health issues that might be invisible to others, but keep you from living your life to the fullest.  

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