Editorial: Social stigma hurts those who suffer from mental disorders
Sunday, March 17th, 2013
When someone is ill with a debilitating disease, let’s say cancer, do we blame them for their affliction? Do we scorn their illness and expect them to just “get over it”? No! We know they are suffering from something beyond their control and we realize that only proper medical treatment will hopefully cure them. So why is it when someone suffers mental illness such as depression, or an addiction, we feel no compassion, and blame the person for not getting their act together, claiming “they need to straighten up”. Can a person sick with an illness just cure themselves with a change in attitude? Of course no matter how severe an illness is, a good attitude can only help, but it sure isn’t going to kill the deadly disease that has invaded their body.
Seeking treatment when something ails you is another story, we all know someone or may even be guilty of it ourselves when we suffer from a pain here or there, even complain about it, but do nothing to treat it. Sometimes we are lucky and the pain or problem eventually goes away, but my guess is more often than not it slowly develops into an ailment that requires extensive medical treatment that could have been avoided had the issue been treated in the first place. So if you have a toothache where do you go? The dentist. If you suffer from vision problems who do you go to? The ophthalmologist. If you suffer from the flu who do you go to? Your family doctor. But who do you go to when you are riddled with a depression so deep you can barely get out of bed each day? A depression that leaves your stomach sour, your heart cold and maybe even thoughts of ending your life? A depression that sees no end, regardless of the happiness and love that might surround you, and no matter how hard you try to find contentment the cloud of despair lies heavy on your soul. You should just be able to “snap out of it”, right? Snapping out of a mental illness such as depression is about as realistic as snapping out of kidney disease, it just doesn’t happen that way.
Many mental instabilities are due to chemical imbalances in our brains, and with proper treatment and medication symptoms such as anxiety and depression can be kept at bay. For some, just accepting they have a problem is difficult;with the social stigma of being “mentally unbalanced” a cruel ignorance that is hard to deny. It is sad that an ill-informed society can actually prevent people from accepting their problem and seeking help. How on earth can someone be blamed for a physical anomaly that is beyond their control? Once a person has found the courage to accept that they may have a mental problem where do they go for proper treatment?
Some countries are now recognizing mental problems as a true illness, but the world has a long way to go in fully addressing the issue. Unfortunately, in countries such as Belize, the resources for treatment are very limited. The good news is that general physicians do have a basic knowledge of mental disorders and the medications that can help. If you fear that your moods are completely beyond your control, there is no harm in visiting with your doctor about this, and if he can’t help you, he may be able to refer you to someone who can. Just as you would seek treatment for a persistent pain in your side, the emotional pain you are suffering from can be treated as well. Why should you be embarrassed about a physical problem that is beyond your control? And for those who have loved ones who are suffering from depression, show them the same love and support you would if their kidneys were failing. Stop passing judgment on those who suffer from ailments that are beyond their control and show them the compassion and care they need to get well.
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