Saturday, February 24, 2007

What can I do about mental illness?

The most important first step the average person can do about mental illness is this:

Take the time to understand mental illness as a no-fault brain disease that greatly disrupts normal brain functioning. By virtue of all of us being human, we must admit that we have weaknesses and are susceptible to illnesses. These severe and predominantly hereditary psychiatric disorders and diseases are illnesses; they can actually change people’s behavior and personality and alter their identity. They can run from neurosis all the way to psychosis—a loss of touch with reality. Irrationality is frightening in all its forms, and an illness that can change the way a person thinks and acts takes an effort to understand and accept. Everyday we learn more about the functioning of the brain. It’s society’s duty to now get past the fear, misconceptions, and possible prejudices that have historically occurred revolving around brain ailments.

The nature of the illness and the suffering it brings demand that we see a psychiatric disorder it for what it is—yet another illness that afflicts us. We need to recognize the heroism in fighting it—as we do for those who battle cancer. It’s ridiculous to associate the vulnerability of being susceptible to illness as a form of personal weakness or deserved blame; rather, it’s the existence of that vulnerability in all of us that should be our call to action; it requires us to act—to help our neighbors, friends and family.

Alleviation of suffering never comes from denial or avoidance, but through empathy and action. Inside our own family we pride ourselves for loving and accepting our own as the flawed and the wonderfully "human" beings they are. And so it should be for those who have a mental illness.

Through honoring the full humanity and dignity of each of the people we serve, Caramore is out to consciously challenge old and misguided notions of mental illness. You can help us do the same by being aware of the real nature of the illness and knowing that it’s very much treatable (90 percent, like any other illness).

D. Cooley

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