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Discussion Forums
Mental Illness

I once heard someone say that mental illness is contagious. I've seen that happen. Stay in a crazy environment too long, or closely involved with dysfunctional people too long, and you'll start to take some of that on yourself. My experience tells me that most of what we know as mental illness is environmental; it often comes from being abused and mistreated to the point where you lose your sense of self, or your sense of personal dignity and worth.

For instance, there's a significantly higher rate of depression in women and minorities. Let the scientists go look for biological causes, but I'm just going "Uh, duh. Hello?" Yes, there are chemical brain differences in some people with various forms of mental illness, and I'm sure at least some of these started with biological and/or inherited stuff. But did you know that trauma actually changes—permanently—some of the brain chemistry and neurological pathways? The mind affects the body at least as much as the body affects the mind, but that's something the scientists can't study as easily. And for sure the mind is affected by what goes on around you, and how you're treated. That commercial about a happy-drug to cure depression, where they sweetly say, "We don't know what causes depression," always makes me laugh.

Psychology is not an exact science, either. Ideas in this field change all the time. Take Sigmund Freud, for instance. He was treating a lot of "hysterical" women who told him they'd been sexually assaulted by men in their families. So he gave a lecture of his findings to a bunch of men who were horrified by what he was saying; they didn't want to believe it. Freud was about to lose his entire professional career . . . that is, until he gave them what they wanted. He said, "Oops. I made a mistake. These women weren't actually raped by their fathers. They just wanted to be, and so had fantasies about it." Ta-da. Freud suddenly became very respectable and famous. Is that sick, or what? That's what modern psychology was built on.

I've known plenty of people—family, friends, students—with every kind of diagnosable mental illness. I actually prefer many so-called "crazy" people to the "normal" ones; they tend to be a lot more creative, and deeper thinkers. In a lot of other cultures, the "crazy" were, and still are, treated with great respect as "seers." If you've been "labeled," please just remember all these things. There's a lot we don't know, and what we think we know is changing all the time.

But, of course, mental illness can mean great personal tragedy. People can just disappear into their own internal worlds, unable to function in many ways. They might want to get back, but they can't. Some probably have learned from really harsh environments that the world is too dangerous, so they just decide to stay away permanently. Some become dangerous to themselves or others. If your thoughts and emotions are troubling you, and you don't what's going on, read some psychology, talk with others on the discussion board, and check out some counseling. There are good and bad therapists, as well as therapists you'll click with and ones you won't. Find one you feel good about.

—Gail



Facts & Stats



About 1 in 5 adults in the US suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder within a given year.



Nearly twice as many women (12%) as men (6.6%) are affected by depression each year.



Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depression) affects about 2.3 million people in this country, or 1.2% of the population over 18 years.



About 1% of the population has schizophrenia, which usually appears in men by their late teens or early 20's, and in women by their 20's or early 30's.



Over 13% of US citizens ages 18-54 have some type of anxiety disorder in a given year.



About 2.3% of people ages 18-54 have obsessive-compulsive disorder in a given year.

- above statistics from The National Institute of Mental Health