robinwilliamsWith the recent death of Robin Williams it’s become largely apparent that the public at large doesn’t understand the suicidal mind or depression. They probably really don’t understand mental illness. This is surprising considering how many celebrities and others are lost a year. And even more surprising when you factor in the studies that say as many as twenty percent of Americans suffer from mental illness a year.

When someone can go on television and make the disgusting comments like the one made by Fox News’ Shepard Smith then it would seem that there’s some sort of communication break down about what’s going on in the mind of a person who would take their own life. I think that saying someone is a coward is actually not at all what happens. Comedian Doug Stanhope said that if it were the coward’s way out then everyone would be doing it. We’re not as brave as we would like to portray ourselves and it would seem to me that claiming that someone who took their own life is cowardly is the actual cowardly part of the equation.

Suicide is largely misunderstood. Culturally we’re taught that it’s illegal and morally wrong. If you’re Christian then many sects teach that it is a one way ticket to Hell. And in the West we tend to value our lives even when they’re not all that great. When someone doesn’t do like the rest of us or doesn’t feel like that, we tend to not like it. This worries me because I don’t know if we will ever be ready, as a country, to properly address mental illness. I suffer from depression and many times people’s reactions range from worried I’m going to end up blowing my brains out to thinking that it’s all in my head and that I can just think my way out of it.

You want to fault them for it, but they can’t understand. When your brain sees things through a haze your world isn’t the same world that everyone else sees. That concept is hard to grasp, but until we do things like this will keep being treated insensitively.


One thought on “Mental Misunderstandings

  1. I totally agree that the general public at large do not understand mental illness, and unless they have experienced severe mental illness can not understand what it feels like to have a mental illness.

    But here’s the thing, they don’t have to to be compassionate. Someone who has a mole doesn’t presume to know what it is like to have skin cancer. Someone who once felt sick because they got hungry doesn’t presume to understand what it is like to have diabetes. People don’t understand what it is like to experience these illnesses unless they have then, yet they extend the sufferer compassion. Yet time and again people who have only ever experienced the normal ups and downs of everyday moods do presume that they understand what it is like to have a mental illness. Based on this presumption the assume that if when they felt ‘down’ they could just ‘pull their socks up and get on with it’ that someone with a mental illness can, and if they can’t that must indicate some sort of want to be ill or weakness on the part of the ill person. If it is the person’s own fault why should they extend them compassion.

    They can understand, all they need to do is take the time to understand the mechanics (physiology, biology, genetics, etc) of the illness and acknowledge the reality of the illness. They don’t kneed to understand what it feels like to have one of these illnesses.


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