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Mental Illness, invisible illness, depressed woman

Why don’t we treat mental illness like we do physical illness?

Even today, mental illness in our society is still treated with a negative stigma and misconceptions, and it needs to stop. We as humans in general care for those with a physical illness in ways that we wouldn’t even think to do so when faced with a person with a mental illness. We help the person receive treatment, we help care for them, are a friend to talk to, and above all, we treat their illness with the respect, seriousness, and legitimacy that it deserves. Why then do we not give the same level of care to those with mental illness?

Many times people with mental illness are viewed as lazy, lacking willpower or possibly worst of all, that they chose to feel that way. Furthermore, people tend to give inappropriate advice to those suffering from mental illness. The comic Robot Hugs helps to illustrate this by applying that same inappropriate advice to physical illness which we can all agree is absurd.

The Mental Illness Double Standard


Possibly part of this incorrect assumption is because, from the outside, a person can look completely “normal.” Having a mental illness is many times “invisible” to those around you, especially when a person is dealing with “high-functioning” types of mental illness like anxiety or certain types of depression. You will not necessarily see someone overtly showing symptoms. In fact, “Among the nine different types of depression a person can be diagnosed with, high-functioning depression may be the most elusive. For a unique group of people, this often debilitating mood disorder can be suppressed enough for them to carry out daily responsibilities.”

According to The Harvard School of Public Health

Chronic low-level depression can last an average of five years in adults or one to two years in children and teens, and while it doesn’t completely cripple a person, it can hinder her ability to live life to its fullest. Losing zealous enthusiasm for work, school, family, and social activities can make life seem bleak, which often leads to episodes of major depression in 75 percent of cases. Because of the high risk of major depressive episodes, those who have low-grade depression should seek immediate treatment at the first sign of an issue, though it can be difficult to unmask the disorder; it often presents itself as a string of bad days…

It is really important to reduce stigma and dig into issues surrounding mental illness because “the stereotypical picture of depression and anxiety limits people from identifying those at risk, and makes it difficult for those suffering to identify it themselves.” This is even more important because many mental illnesses like anxiety are very treatable and can make a person’s life significantly better in many ways.

What is even more encouraging is that you are in able to help those suffering if you know what to look for. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has some great guidance on what to look for when trying to understand if a friend or family member is struggling with mental illness.

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About Choices Psychotherapy

Choice is the foundation for a change. Choice speaks to the reality that there is not one right answer for all. At Choices Psychotherapy, we are committed to empowering clients and their families to identify options while assisting in creating a personal roadmap toward health and recovery.

Related: Depression