The hard conversation about those mentally ill: When language collides with psychology

I have been destined to experience schizophrenia in this life. Recently, I have realised that two of my close family members are also suffering from certain forms of mental illnesses due to life circumstances. All the while, I have been silent about my own mental health journey even when I am around my close family members. However, I think it’s time to change the way I deal with or talk about mental illnesses.

When it comes to people who perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, it is not that all these people in the society wants to discriminate against mentally ill people. It is just that these people in the society have been nurtured in terms of the way they approach the issues of mental health. They tend to label mentally ill people as being sick or having health problems (in a biological way), dangerous (tend to be violent), unable to work, unable to socialize, etc. Sometimes, it’s not their individual fault to view mentally ill patients with prejudice. There is actually an integration of factors like…

  1. The consistent mass media portrayal of mentally ill patients as being violent and dangerous as seen from the news reporting on brutal killings and abuse cases committed by people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill.

  2. The concluding perspective that mentally ill people are incapable in terms of fulfilling the responsibilities at their job position when the truth is that many mentally ill people are able to work productively even at intellectually challenging job positions. Sometimes, the fact is that the society never grants job opportunities to those capable mentally ill patients. Being jobless, the mentally ill patients have deteriorated self-worth, low self-confidence and deflated self-esteem due to great self-doubt resulting from their helpless and unfruitful attempts in securing a job with matches their capabilities.

  3. The dominant belief that mentally-ill people do not like to build social relationships and they prefer to be in their world of delusions and hallucination when the crux of the problem is that the lack of social support in long term has shaped the personalities of mentally ill people to be defensive and doubtful towards people’s kindness. The best favour which can be done by the society is to reach out to mentally ill people who have been engulfed by their loneliness and mental hurts due to the absence of a supportive, reliable social system in the face of life turmoil. Show them love in the forms of affirmative words, acts of service, physical affection, quality time and gifts of appreciation and they will transform into the most loving person you can never imagine.

  4. The over-medicalization of mental illnesses to fight the stigma so as to deduce that our mentally-ill loved ones are just biologically sick but not being insane, spiritually void, weak, weird, lazy, socially distant, etc. (whatever negative labels). There are two pathways to recovery for mentally ill people. However, these two pathways are easier to be said than done. The first pathway is the prescription of medicine, counselling service, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, etc. which all fall on the responsibilities and roles of mental health practitioners. It is important to avoid the risk of misdiagnosis due to the over-reliance on the established list of mental illness symptoms. Evert patient comes from a different life story so we should not be quick to judge based on our previous accurate diagnosis and successful treatment. Listen to their life story before deciding on the best course of treatment or intervention. However, this pathway might not lead to positive outcome in mental health treatment without being coupled with the second pathway. The second pathway needs the consolidating efforts from the society. Please refer to Point 1,2 and 3 above.

    First, while reporting facts objectively, the mass media in our society need to be balanced and unbiased when it comes to news reporting to do with mental illness so as not to shape the society’s thinking in a way which only diminishes the statuses of mentally ill citizens in our country. There are certainly happy cases to celebrate in this field of mental health.

    Secondly, the corporate world should be compassionate enough to provide those mentally ill patients with the chances to secure a job and show their hidden talents which have been kept dormant due to the suppressing, unfair power of the existing prejudice towards mentally ill people in our society. Our human history has proven that mental illness seems to be closely entangled with creativity as we read the inspiring life stories of great artists, writers, poets, scientists, etc. who were diagnosed as having certain forms of mental illnesses.

    Thirdly, we should always be sensitive towards the mental health of people around us by acting promptly to help fulfill their social needs when these needs are obvious and also within our capabilities to fulfill. It’s on our part to be proactive to reach out to those broken souls which have hidden themselves in a seemingly impenetrable protective shells. Our little kindness might mean the whole world for them. Nobody likes to be alone and socially distant. Therefore, we need to earn the trust from these people who have been put through countless disappointments by using our patience and sincerity.

In the nutshell, we need to change our linguistic formats for mental illnesses by altering the way we (mental heath practitioners, mass media, employers, the community, etc.) discuss or talk about mental illness so as to not underestimate the power of language in shaping our beliefs and actions which will manifest in the form of great impact toward mentally ill people who have been marginalized in our society. Justice for the mentally-ill people should prevail.

One of my favourite quotes:

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It’s time to stop the silence or change the way we discuss or talk about mental illness.

I am trying to be more open about my own struggles with mental illness provided that the listener is mentally strong to handle my disclosure. Besides, I will try to reach out to my loved ones who are struggling with mental illness so as to make them feel understood, accompanied and supported during their darkest hours. This is helpful in eliminating the cruel, pervasive labels for the mentally ill by our society which is still ignorant and uninformed towards the well-being of mentally ill people at large. It will be a hard conversation that requires courage, practice and skills but I will try to make an initiative.

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