Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
In past Western society, symptoms of mental illness were seen as behavioral choices, bad attitudes, or at least repulsive deficiencies. We used to institutionalize struggling people because loved ones did not know what else to do. In worst-case scenarios, patients were used as lab rats or sterilized against their will. Dark, rubber-walled isolation chambers were thought “safe” places where a person who was symptomatic could unwind.
Our understanding has grown and continues to do so. We’ve learned that isolation is the worst possible response to mental illness, and in fact, can exacerbate symptoms. We’ve abolished the formal inhumane treatment, but have instead relegated those with mental illness to combinations of homelessness, ridicule, poverty, and blame. Access to Mental Health services is often unavailable if one does not have money, lives in a rural community, or simply cannot function due to the illness.
Brain disorders are complex. The same is true of cancer, and diabetes, for example. And like cancer and diabetes, a genetic factor in mental illnesses is suggested. Rates of risk for mental illness are affected to a degree by how many and which relatives share the same diagnosis. Studies of identical twins have helped us to explore genetic influences on mental illness.
While there appears to be a genetic predisposition, not all cases have a family history of the disease. Researchers call environmental factors the “second hit.”* We know that viral infections and a pregnant mother’s weak immune system greatly raises the risk of her child having a mental illness. Brain injuries in utero or early childhood are linked as well to some conditions.
When I was twenty-seven, I was diagnosed with a Giant brain aneurism. I was told it was likely a brain injury from some point in my life including perhaps in utero. There was no sign of a problem until I was a teenager, and symptoms gradually worsened over at least thirteen years. In a similar way, schizophrenia can be present and unnoticed. It is considered to have organic foundations stemming from brain injury. It may reach a critical stage when a person’s central nervous system matures. This is why symptoms tend to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood.
Medications can help in many cases. Unlike for a brain aneurysm, there is no quick-fix such as I experienced with surgery. As of now, there is no known medical “cure” for mental illness. The chances of living a more normal and satisfactory life highly increase with professional mental health treatment.
The next part of this series will address more “second hits” such as family life, experiences, and emotions.
Today’s Helpful Word
Psalm 7:10 (NIV)
“My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.”
-King David who struggled with depressive episodes
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NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help are yours.
*National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Program