The stigma of mental illness has hovered over sufferers of all kinds for centuries. In fact, until recent decades, mental illness was sometimes so stereotyped that experts didn’t even bother differentiating between one illness and the next. Maybe, though, you feel you’re still being stereotyped and overlooked, and that your illness will keep you from living the life you want. You might wonder if you’re destined to be known as a diagnosis, not an individual. Fortunately, this does not have to happen. Below are a few ways the face of mental illness has changed, and how you can change with it.
The treatment of mental illness has evolved substantially in the twenty-first century. For example, now it’s common to see licensed counselors recommending dietary changes, exercise, and recreation, just as physicians might recommend for someone with a physical ailment. For many people with mental illnesses, herbal supplements have replaced or eclipsed medications. Examples include Focus Formula, herbal remedies, and vitamin supplements.
Because of these changes, you can focus on indulging hobbies or building on big dreams you may have had for quite awhile. For example, in today’s world, many people with mental illnesses own successful businesses, are married, or have children. Others have become successful advocates for mental illness and the elimination of related stigmas, such as the idea that if you have a mental illness, you are a danger to others. The truth is that many people with mental illness work in people-oriented fields such as medicine, teaching, entertainment, or public relations. Their illnesses may not be common knowledge in the workplace, but nor is discrimination and stigma the norm.
Mental and Physical Illnesses are Now Accepted as Equals
One of the most positive aspects of today’s mental illness treatment is that experts now know the brain can get sick just like the body does. This approach can give hope to people with mental illnesses. Although mental illnesses may never disappear completely, treatments can place them “in remission.” Furthermore, as you are waiting for remission, your loved ones are far more likely to act as a support system, not a circle of grieving individuals whose lives you’ve negatively affected. The best thing you can do to facilitate this support is to make clear what will help you most. For example, you can say, “I will let you know if I don’t feel well or need help. Unless I do, please assume I am fine and can participate fully in any activities or discussions.”
People with Mental Illness are Seen in a More Positive Light
Just like a person with arthritis or diabetes can still have desirable character traits, so can someone with mental illness. The negative aspects of illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and others often cover up the positive characteristics the illness can actually enhance. For example, someone with depression might also be a deeply compassionate person who feels with, not just for, others. Someone with bipolar disorder might have a wonderful sense of humor or be more willing than most to join friends in spontaneous activities. In some cases, mental illnesses or other issues can cover up creative brilliance or innovative ways of thinking. Modern counselors are anxious to help patients uncover these truths, and so sessions may focus almost entirely on those. In fact, listing and talking about your strengths with a counselor or loved one’s help is considered a great mental exercise.
Even if you don’t discuss positive traits during counseling, it’s a good idea to put them into practice at home. Set aside time each day to give yourself positive affirmations, such as, “I take care of myself. I do X task well. I am intelligent. I am compassionate.” You should also spend a chunk of time every day doing something that you love, whether that’s reading a book, riding a bike, spending time with a pet, or something else. Oftentimes, your hobbies can also be the key to fulfilling careers or, at the least, jobs that you can do to supplement a paycheck. For example, if you’re an amateur photographer, consider taking classes to improve your craft or selling your photos to interested clients.
Knowing you have a mental illness can be scary, especially if your diagnosis is recent. You may assume that all your dreams will be swallowed up in your diagnosis and that loved ones will see you as somehow “less.” The truth is, though, that mental illness has become a more accepted part of most communities, and most medical professionals want to keep patients as positive and active as possible. Tips like these can help you participate more fully in that part of your treatment and recognize that your illness hasn’t changed your personhood.