Mental Health: How society treats Mental Illness

I started writing this on April 19, around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing.

I don’t want to think about a lot of the stuff that’s gone on this week, on the large scale (Boston, Texas, Waterton, etc) and on a personal one (Monterrey and tires – I’ll relate it soon).

And then I read this:

And that really didn’t make anything better.

For some reason, it reminded me of one of the (actually very few) negative reactions I’ve had when I disclosed my Bipolar.

I was in school, pretty early on, maybe my second semester at the university, so 2005? 2006? I was in a history class. The teacher was very strict on counting attendance as part of the grade. I was struggling with a bout of depression. One of my classmates, a young woman, was struggling with debilitating migraines.

We were commiserating about this and I talked about being bipolar. I also talked about about my daughter who was in third or fourth grade at the time.

The young woman said, “They haven’t taken her away?” or maybe it was, “Why haven’t they taken her away?”

I was shocked, stunned.

I’m ill, so “they” should take her away from me? More importantly, “they” should take me away from her?

My response to the young woman was, “Why should they take her away? She’s clean, fed, bright, does well in school, has clothes, etc.”

I wasn’t taking care of myself very well at that point, but SHE was taken care of. That’s where the majority of my energy went.

I don’t know if that reaction is better or worse than some of the other reactions I’ve had. The best is when someone starts to relate about about someone in their lives that has the illness or another big psych issue.

But others are like, “Aren’t we all a little bipolar?” I loved the nurse that tried to tell me to get off my meds and everything would be fine, that was good. There’s a great list of “things to not say” here.

Not sure I have a real point today, except I’m fairly frustrated at the way we as a society treat mental illness.

This came up for me again recently.

The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, version V, came out this month.

The director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel,  “rejected” the new version as not scientific enough.

 Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment. Patients with mental disorders deserve better.

 I agree that we need better ways of determining mental illness.

Wouldn’t it be great to point to a blood test or a brain scan to say, “THIS is what’s wrong”?

But those tests don’t exist yet. There is research going on, but it’s not yet at a level where we can do that.

NIMH does not deal directly with patients, they fund research, so this won’t affect patients directly.

NIMH is apparently going to use their own criteria called Research Domain Criteria. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) on the other hand has a more rational approach, along the lines of my feeling – It’s not perfect, but it’s what we have right now.

While we are better than mental hospitals of 50 years ago, we still have a long way to go treating mental illness, and those who suffer with it so that it’s on parity with “physical” illnesses.

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