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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What do you think of when you hear "mental illness"?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) September 7th, 2010

There are many types of mental illness, i.e., depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. There’s a whole list of phobias.

People with mental illness don’t easily fit into categories, but popular culture is rife with stereotypes. There’s the psych-ward patient shuffling along. There’s the dangerous lunatic locked up in a prison for the criminally insane. There’s the eccentric spinster with 500 cats. There are more generalizations.

How educated do you feel yourself to be about mental illness? Is it a subject you give much thought to?

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25 Answers

Zyx's avatar

People can’t actually know any of this stuff yet. Thinking is complex and psychology basically just observes people and speculates. So I think of Tesla and being awesome. Who’s to say crazy people aren’t CRAZY smart?

ducky_dnl's avatar

I know a lot about it, seeing as I’m labeled as most of that stuff. :| I also think of schizophrenia.

lsdh182's avatar

I myself when I hear the words mental illness think more of colours and sounds than an actual image? I do that with a lot of phrases and numbers or letters even. Mental Illness is usually a blur of blue and purple colours and confused, frustrated noise sounds out.
When I think harder after I’ve heard the words I think of brown doors and paper shuffling and hospitals.
I don’t feel very well educated on the subject at all. This is my honest initial response to the phrase.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Sick people. Especially retarded and autistic folks.

Seaofclouds's avatar

When I hear mental illness, I think back to when I was in nursing school in my psychiatric nursing class. I think about how far we’ve come in that area and how far we still have to go. When I was in nursing school, we went to visit a facility for psychiatric patients. These patients were there for pretty severe mental illnesses. Years ago, this facility used ECT. They still had the equipment for it stored in the basement. We got to go see it. I think the progress we’ve made in treating patients will mental illness is amazing.

I myself think I am educated on several mental illnesses. I could be further educated, especially as things continue to change. I actually thought about going into psychiatric nursing and still think about it from time to time.

JLeslie's avatar

When I hear mental illness, I wonder which illness specifically. I make no judgements or assumptions. I have been around mental illness enough to know that there are people all around us who have mental illnesses and we may not be aware of it.

ucme's avatar

Oh for sure Alzheimers disease. I worked in caring for sufferers of this debilitating condition & the memories will stay with me always.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seaofclouds ECT is still used. It is very effective for some conditions.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I was raised by someone who has been diagnosed with both schizophrenia and BPD after I was an adult. We weren’t aware of what was wrong with her when I was little. She just started acting out strangely in her mid-20s and no one did or said anything. My birth mother had/has(?) severe, severe depression and her now-ex-husband was in a mental ward for schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder the last I heard about him a few years ago. I feel badly about what these people have gone through. It is suffering, and it causes them to act out irrationally, think irrational thoughts, scare themselves, behave violently to family, friends and strangers, and shut themselves away from the world for days on end.

I see a lot of mentally ill people in NYC, a lot of them are panhandlers, or shit themselves on the trains, appear to be trying to self-medicate with drinking, drugs and smoking. It’s a tough roe to hoe. And especially because the diseases are in the mind and it’s not physically evident that something’s wrong, it’s easier for people to dismiss them, and say that all the suffering person has to do is “buck up”, take their meds and get on with it. It also makes it hard for the suffering person to think that anything is wrong with them, themselves, because there’s nothing obvious, like a broken leg or strange body sores would be.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@JLeslie That’s true. I forgot that they still use it. The equipment they had was very old. It was the way they use to do ECT, which is different from modern ECT from my understanding.

muppetish's avatar

It reminds me of a close friend who works at a nurse at a psychiatric wards. He refers to the patients as “crazies” and enjoys talking about when they have fits and he has to take them down and give them injections. I abhor the way he speaks about them and question whether he is in the right line of work.

There’s a whole spectrum of people with “mental illnesses” ... the more frightening symptoms and conditions are what burn into our memories more often. I do not feel educated enough about them. I try to keep an open mind.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Schizophrenia, mostly and psychosis.

wundayatta's avatar

When I think of mental illness, I see the black men who walk down the street shouting epithets at everyone or of the man who rides around the city on his bicycle collecting aluminum cans from our recycling bins. He is always talking to himself or singing as he goes. He’s not as scary—he seems to be in his own world as opposed to imposing his world on me, like the first kind of person.

It’s a bifurcated image for me now. Because I never, not in a month of Sundays, ever expected to find myself included in that group. Now I have to go around, acting as normal as I ever did (which is to say not all that normal but normal enough that most people didn’t have a problem with me) and yet still knowing I have a mental illness.

I think there is a hierarchy of mental illnesses. There are crazy mental illnesses, and sad mental illnesses and phobic mental illnesses and smart mental illnesses. If you have to be mentally ill, it seems to me that it’s best to have bipolar disorder.

The schizophrenics—well, they’re really crazy if they aren’t treated. They hear voices and talk back. They get paranoid and see visions of aliens. They get delusions that the woman walking past them in the store wants them to come fuck her in the store bathroom. They go into the bathroom and strip naked before security comes to get them.

Depression, I think, can be stereotyped as a more genteel, women’s condition. Women who, in the past, got vapors or hysterical. Women who may or may not be acting more ineffectual than they actually are. Women who cry all the time. Women who are, well, just wimpy, somehow.

The anxiety disorders; the eating disorders; the cutting disorders: seem to be off to the side. They seem like they might not really be a mental disorder, but more like the result of bad childhoods or something like that. They are the kind of thing that one can feel sympathy for—to a certain extent—but then they better pull themselves together and get out of the house and do stuff.

This is what I thought before. These were my images of mental illness. These were my prejudices. This was my lack of understanding.

It’s all different now, of course. Now I both sympathy and empathy for people with all kinds of mental illnesses. Now I have been there. I have felt the pain that all of us have felt. I have felt the despair that the pain would never end. I have felt the desire to take the only way out of the pain that I knew would work.

I’ve been really, really lucky, too. I got the “smart” illness. It’s kind of funny how, when you get this, you are pointed towards Kay Bailey Jameson’s book in which it seems like every bipolar person is a genius of one kind or another. I never bought into that, though. Depression wouldn’t let me. I wanted to be smart—don’t get me wrong—but I couldn’t carry it off, and I could never believe in myself.

I was lucky in that my first drugs worked and my first therapist worked. I was lucky in that I was able to work my way back to what passes for normality with me in three years. A lot of people—people I know personally, now—are bouncing in and out of depression, or having manic episodes. Many of them have had several stints in mental hospitals. I never had to go.

So now, I see the beggars who I know are mostly mentally ill, and I give them money more often than I used to. I don’t care if they drink or booze because I know what the pain is like. I don’t look down on alcoholics and drug addicts because I know what the pain is like, and I don’t blame anyone for trying whatever they can to make it better.

I don’t feel pity for the anorexics and cutters, because I know what the pain is like, and how I have (and still do) scratch myself until it bleeds in order to try to keep my mind off…. well, whatever. It’s not the same as what they go through, but it does give me some insight.

And the schizophrenics? Well, the one I know best is kind of an awkward guy with a voice that is so loud you have to plug your ears with cotton if you are in the same room as he is. He’s also so socially awkward. But I understand his longing. I know he didn’t mean any harm in that bathroom. I know he was just looking for love—even if it was in a very inept way—just as I did when I was sick, in my own socially inept way.

Now I watch myself so carefully, fearful of recurrence. I wonder if the purple “aura” I see at night on the roads is just my aging eyes or something more. Sometimes other things happen that make me feel weird, like maybe I’m perceiving something different than most people would or do.

Now, I know that all the mental illnesses may share some genetic links. It could be that the root cause for them can be found in the same basic set of alleles, but be expressed differently due to other genes or environmental conditions.

Now, I know that I can no longer say “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Because now I am one with all of us. Now I have my own diagnosis. Now, I know that in very many ways, mentally ill people are pretty much people, just like all the rest of us.

downtide's avatar

Having suffered mental illness myself (long term chronic depression), it’s depression that comes to mind first when I think of mental illness. The next thing would be somebody flipping out and having an emotional breakdown (which happened to my aunt). Mostly it just makes me think of people I know.

CMaz's avatar

I think… Mental illness.

wundayatta's avatar

Ah @ChazMaz. That’s why we love you so much: your terse, yet brilliant comments!

BratLady's avatar

I think of the various types and how some with mental illness are treated like dirt. I get upset when someone uses the word ‘retard’. One of my sister’s is “mentally challenged” and it breaks my heart to hear remarks about the “retard”.
Seaofclouds~ We did a lot of EST when I was in nursing. That was in the early ‘70’s.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Manic – Depressive Bi-polar too.

Zyx's avatar

@Ben_Dover Everyone is slighty autistic, even you. It’s probabaly caused by human intelligence and some of the smartest people around are autistic. Saying autism is a mental illness is like saying coats are brown. Autism is a sprectrum of symptoms that sometimes comes down to a mental illness. And if not I denounce my diagnosis.

josie's avatar

Two me there are two types of “mental illness”
One is truely an illness. The brain is wired up wrong and functions abnormally. Example, schizophrenia
The other is really not an illness at all. It is simply the inability to make a good decision given the avaliable facts of reality. There are all sorts of “neuroses” that fit the category, but they are nothing more than cognitive incompetence.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@josie : You’ve studied this and arrived at your conclusions how?

Ben_Dover's avatar

@xyZ…Uh huh…sure it is…

faye's avatar

I think of my training experiences at a psychiatric hospital. It was pretty archaic and more than a little sad.

Jeruba's avatar

@lsdh182, you’re describing your own experience of synesthesia.

lsdh182's avatar

@Jeruba Thanks for the link… I haven’t heard of that before but that makes a lot of sense to me.

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