General Question

MooCows's avatar

What is the difference between cancer and mental illness?

Asked by MooCows (3185points) March 8th, 2016

Why is it that society can talk about cancer and many
more people will tell you they have or had cancer
than someone who is struggling with a mental illness?
Why is there such a stigma about mental illness?
We desperately need to get this disease “out of the
closet for good”!

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15 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The difficulty many people have in dealing with mental illness is it cause behavioral unpredictability. And because of that, others never know what mood or reaction they will be facing.

My ex has some mental health issues and her mood can be fine this morning and raging anger by lunch. It adds stress onto the whole family.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

I totally agree, but IMO people might feel if they disclose they have a mental illness, they will think people think they are weak.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, what @zenvelo said. The doifference is that cancer patients are not prone to psycho outbursts, mood swings, and other emotional/mental issues. I have compassion for those suffering from mental illness but I also have compassion for myself and will not subject myself to their destructive behaviors.

Vincentt's avatar

Another important difference it that it’s pretty hard to draw the line between a mental “illness” an simple personality traits. Labelling a person as “ill” is far more likely to be unpleasant to that person when it concerns a mental illness than when it concerns cancer, so that makes it less likely to be talked about.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The County Sheriff does not go to your home and confiscate your licensed firearms if you say you have cancer.

ibstubro's avatar

I think a lot of it goes back to most physical ailments beginning as “kill or cure”.
People either died, or you were extremely happy for them and expressed that freely.

Mental illness has always been a grey area.
I think that’s changing, slowly, as we know more about mental illness and diseases such as cancer and HIV become chronic illnesses.

As medical science pays more attention and we learn more, I think humans will eventually find that many ‘mental’ illnesses have physical roots and treatments.

JLeslie's avatar

It wasn’t that long ago that women died in relative silence from breast cancer. Shhhhh, don’t say breast in mixed company. Michael Douglas mentioned publicly some mouth cancers are caused from HPV, shhhhhh, sexually transmitted! A whole bunch of idiots in the media went along with the general population freak out and misinformation instead if educating themselves and the public. Pisses me off. Farah Faucett died from anal cancer related to HPV, do you even know that? It was almost never mentioned. Talk about giving a 12 year old a vaccine to prevent cancer, shhhh, half the country is up in arms about giving a preteen a vaccine for something sexually transmitted.

Women’s cancers are almost as taboo to talk about as mental illness. In certain circles people can talk about female cancers openly, and in certain circles mental illness is discussed more openly. Both are better discussed now than 40 years ago.

I would agree mental illness generally carries more stigma and more misunderstanding, but cancer doesn’t get off scott free. Women don’t anyway.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

When a person has a physical illness, it is often readily apparent to see. They will often look sick. A mental illness does not have this component. You cannot look at me and know I have bipolar disorder type 1. I have to tell you, or you have to get to know me over time and witness the variations in my behavior.

Since it does not appear physically but instead shows itself in behavior, mental illness is often believed to be controllable. Because it shows up as behaviors, it is often seen as learned. Since it’s learned, surely it can be unlearned and fixed easily. The sad truth is that the abnormal behavior cannot be unlearned or easily fixed. It often takes medication and lots of therapy over many years. The medication component can take a lot of trial and error, too, in order to get the right kind. It’s quite difficult.

I work as an advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness. I live with the stigma and see it constantly. I personally see internalized stigma hurt the mentally ill as well. Release from stigma is my life’s work.

filmfann's avatar

The perception is that anyone can get cancer, but mental illness is limited to the nut jobs.
Mental illness is also often an invisible affliction. I am schizotopal, but it’s not severe, and you probably wouldn’t notice it if we visited for hours.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Seven years ago, none of you would have noticed that I had prostate cancer – except that it took me alittle longer to pee.

JLeslie's avatar

I want to agree with @LuckyGuy and say people are all around us in chronic pain, and with serious physical illness, and nobody knows unless the person tells them. Even when people do know, they often don’t really understand or have empathy unless they have experienced something similar themselves.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I think the OP is directing our attention to the stigma against those with mental illness. The stigma is the key in the question’s details.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Yes, I addressed the stigma initially, but there is also an absence of understanding for both mental illness and chronic physical illness. This lack of understanding can create a lot of distress.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, you did. Thanks.

Mimishu1995's avatar

In some culture mental illness, no matter what it is exactly, is automatically attributed to “being insane”, which is offensive. As a result no one wants to reveal that they have mental illness. Hell, even being different is attributed to insanity, let alone real illness.

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