Apparently it’s a thing for people to claim that mental illness in general and/or specific mental illnesses aren’t “real.” A comment that was posted (and since deleted) on a review of my book, “The OCD Mormon,” on By Common Consent said something to that effect, or that it was the medication that caused the symptoms. There was recently a twitter thread from boxer Andrew Tate about how “depression isn’t real.” These types of comments are being made in our current world. Right now. It’s sad and terrifying.

Spectrums

The thing about mental illness is that yes, there are normal human emotions that are similar to the various mental illnesses. They are the pale yellow crayons in comparison to mental illness’ neon yellow highlighter versions. I can understand how people might think, “Oh, pale yellow isn’t so bad; people need to just decide to get over themselves and deal with a little bit of yellow,” if they have only ever experienced pale yellow and never the neon highlighter.

You cannot fully understand or appreciate a mental illness if you’ve only ever had the pale crayon versions of those feelings or emotions. But please don’t try to tell people who have mental illnesses or have loved ones who have these debilitating conditions that they are faking or making it up.

Choices and Situations

Believe me, I wish I could just shrug away the obsessions and the compulsions. I wish I could turn off my brain and not have to worry and fear things that most “normal” people don’t even think about. People with severe anxiety probably wish that they were able to not worry about everything. Those with depression most likely don’t want to be incapacitated by those feelings of intense and overwhelming sadness.

Yes, there are things that happen. There is situational depression, worry, or trauma. But there are also people living amazing lives to an outsider’s perspective who feel crippled and betrayed by their own minds. They are unable to just shut off their thoughts. It is not a simple choice between happiness or being mentally unstable. It is not a matter of willpower or people being lazy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: those who struggle and fight and live with mental illness are not weak. They are strong. They are unimaginably brave. They are also, by and large, tired of hearing people belittle their illnesses, say they are not “real,” and blame medications for their symptoms.

Medication or Society?

I had symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder before I took medication. I had them when I wasn’t on medication. I know that medication has side effects, and yes, not all of them are positive. But currently, medication is giving me my life back. Medication combined with cognitive behavior therapy has made me able to live successfully with my very real mental illness. Others, of course, live with mental illness without any medication. They know that a mental illness is not a side effect of a pill.

There are those who point to an increase in mental health issues, claiming that something must be different or wrong with our modern society and that is what is “causing” these issues. That is obviously a much bigger research project than I am prepared to take on for this post, but we also must admit that research into mental illnesses, their causes, their symptoms, and their treatment has increased in our modern society as well. It was hard to be diagnosed with a disorder or illness that hadn’t yet been classified or named. In my opinion, the increase of knowledge about mental illnesses has led to an increase in people being aware of what it is that is wrong with them and what they are dealing with. It’s not necessarily that more people suddenly “have” these mental illnesses—they just now know what they are.

In addition, and something that was mentioned and argued by others in the previously mentioned Twitter thread, we cannot claim that other generations “didn’t have” depression or another mental illness. They were called by other names. People didn’t openly admit to having those problems. And there was probably a great deal more self-medicating.

The truth is, mental illness is real. It is not a choice. We can make the choice to get help for a mental illness, of course. We can chose how we talk about it and deal with it. But we shouldn’t have to convince others whether or not our mental illnesses are real conditions. That is completely ridiculous.

What are your thoughts on the “reality” of mental illness?

 

2 thoughts on “When People Say Mental Illness Isn’t Real”

  1. Kari, thank you for standing up for yourself and for all others who suffer with very real mental illnesses! The only thing more painful than trying to recover from mental illness is trying to recover from that illness while others (especially those who should be supporting you) are questioning your moral strength, your willpower, and even your intentions. I admire you very much for fighting the good fight every day, every hour, every minute, every moment of your life. Eventually, because of the Savior’s power and because of your faith and humility, you will be freed from this illness, perhaps in the same way that diabetics or cancer victims will be freed from their illnesses. I wish you all the best!

  2. I really appreciate this post, you brought up a lot of good points. I like your “spectrum” description of mental and emotional problems and how everyone may experience anxiety or depression, but not at the level or severity of someone with an actual disorder. I also appreciated you bringing up that the difference in terminology and opennness of previous generations when it came to mental illnesses. I remember my grandmother referring to relatives from her childhood who had “nervous problems” or even “shyness” when they were debilitated by anxiety that kept them stuck indoors.

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