Mental Illness is normal
Dr Richard Schweizer from One Door Mental Health talks about why mental illness is deeply normal.
To develop a mental illness, at any time of life, is a traumatic experience. It can severely affect day-to-day living. It can force you to reassess your life goals. It can cause you to lose touch with friends, family and community. It can take life’s opportunities out of your reach. And for some, it can lead to the darkest of thoughts and actions.
With this picture of mental illness in mind, I would like to explore a thought that may appear strange, even untenable. The thought is this:
Mental illness is normal.
Now of course, on one level, mental illness is clearly abnormal. It involves thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviour that are different to the everyday experience of most people. It can cause severe distress that is not ordinary. And admitting mental illness – admitting that what is happening to you is not “normal” – may be the first step towards recovery for many people.
However, on another level, mental illness is deeply normal.
It is normal because mental illness – madness – has been with humankind from its earliest history. Historical accounts of madness have existed in Classical Greek, Roman and Indian societies; if not earlier. Madness is a deep theme in the various literatures of the world. Shakespeare deals with what we may call madness in a number of his plays – Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. Antonin Artaud deals with the theme extensively. Emily Dickinson writes about depression and what we may today call bipolar in her wonderful poems. And one in four people will experience mental illness during the course of their lives. It has been with us, and will be with us, for as long as we are around. One could even say that madness is part of the human condition.
What are the implications of this thought?
If we admit that mental illness is a normal part of human life for some people, we must accept it rather than fear it. To understand mental illness in this way is deeply de-stigmatising. It helps us remember that every person with mental illness is human; needs love and company and support. It removes the dark stain of responsibility for one’s own mental illness that some people still paint.
I am not advocating that we should cease treating mental illness or, as writers such as Szasz have done, and simply say it does not exist. I am merely advocating that people with mental illness should be accepted, loved and treated as human. Those with mental illness have deep needs for affection and fulfillment and personhood.
Like you and I. Like all people.