What Would Happen if We Treated Physical Diseases like Mental Illness?

By Shruti Rajan, Outreach Coordinator

Imagine that you were bed-ridden with a 108-degree fever, left feeling immobilized and hopeless, and relying on medication to keep your symptoms in check. Naturally, making it through the day depends on the help and encouragement of others. Your mother suggests that you go see a doctor, your friends and coworkers immediately step in and say that you should “take the day off and take care of yourself”, everyone sympathizes with you. But what if you lived in a world where you didn’t get that type of support for your aliment? What if, instead, they said, “Hey look at it this way, there are plenty of people who have it worse off than you” and then carried on.

While unimaginable and rather insensitive, this rhetoric is commonly used as advice from loved ones that individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses encounter daily. A 2016 CDC survey revealed that only 25% of individuals with mental health issues felt like people around them sympathized with their diagnosis. A statistic that would be considered shockingly low for other conditions, such as cancer or even the flu. Therefore, despite scientific evidence that disclaims the differences between mental and physical illnesses, many hold the strongly rooted myth that mental illnesses is something that is in their control while physical illnesses are considered involuntary.

Imagine having to live in fear of being belittled or stigmatized for a diagnosis even though it drastically alters your life. The shroud of secrecy around mental illnesses exists mainly because of the preconceptions people have about them. Some believe that “feeling depressed” is interchangeable with watching your favorite sports team lose. Others insist that individuals with PTSD are “not moving on” from the event that happened to them. Through our actions, we are creating an atmosphere that lacks empathy for symptoms that are just as pervasive as any physical illness.

Moving forward, remember to recognize that a person suffering from a mental illness is experiencing real and tangible pain and distress. Any sympathy and understanding that you can offer to an individual diagnosed with a mental illness re-frames the question from, “Should mental illnesses be treated the same?” to “What kind of medical care should be given to treat mental illnesses?”  Because isn’t it time that we took mental illnesses more seriously?