Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Suicide is Selfish . . . and Other Lies About Mental Illness

I'm going to start this off with a rare disclaimer. While I'm saying a lot of things people think about suicide and mental illness aren't true, I'm not saying the opposite of what they think. When I say suicide isn't selfish, that doesn't mean I think it's selfless. I think it's a horrible thing that people do sometimes because they can't figure out another option. I want those people to get help, first and foremost. If you're contemplating suicide and you're in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255. If you're outside of the U.S., just type suicide into Google. The first result will be a help line near you. Please use it.

Now for your irregularly scheduled post. People with mental illness get bombarded with misinformation constantly. I'm sure it's true for patients with any kind of illness really. The cancer patient whose friend on facebook says drinking holy water cured her neighbor's mother-in-law. The fibromyalgia patient who hears it's all in her head. We're all in the same boat. Everyone has a damn opinion, usually accompanied by some lame attempt at credibility, such as my "my mom has depression, so it's impossible for me to be insensitive about your bipolar disorder." So, what are the more common misconceptions I hear about mental illness and what do I think of them? If that sort of thing interests you, read on.

Suicide is Selfish

This one is so common that I hear it my regular life, not just in the wilds of the Internet. I hear that it's selfish because it hurts the people who are left behind. I hear it's weak because the person just didn't snap out of it and keep fighting. These people 110% do not understand clinical suicidality. They may have lost a loved one and thought, "I just want to die." They may have even passingly considered suicide at one point or another as a way to escape their problems. It's easy to see why they think it's selfish because their feelings on it have always been that way. Let's explore why it isn't.

Depression, anxiety and hallucinations are examples of some of the mental pain that can lead to suicidality. When felt at the more extreme end of the spectrum, these symptoms/conditions are all-consuming. They can convince you that you're useless. They can convince you that you are a burden on your family. They can convince you that you will never contribute to society, you are dangerous, you are in danger and that the world is better if you are dead. They can cause tremendous anguish in the sufferer. People who are suicidal often think about it as an option because they think it will be better for others. What's selfish about that? Sure, they're wrong, and even if their illness makes them a little needier, it doesn't matter. Being wrong does not a selfish act make, so why not leave these poor folks to rest? If suicide really bothers you, maybe don't waste time calling it selfish and spend that time showing someone their value.

Nature, Talking to a Friend, Etc. is Better Than Medicine

I see these memes all the time online. They'll have pictures of a puppy and say "the only therapy I need" or show a forest and read "medicine is bullsh*t, doctors should prescribe a hike." There are so many of these I've lost track. Listen, we all know that the happy things in life are good for people with mental illness. They're good for all of us. That doesn't mean they can replace medication. Medication can save people's lives. This kind of misinformation backed up with a dismissive "it's what works for me" only proves that these people aren't mentally ill. They're just people having people problems. That's fine. Go for a walk. I'll be over here taking my prescribed medications so that I can also go for a walk.

Mental Illness Means You're Weak

Oh, please. Tell that to soldiers with PTSD. Tell that to people who've survived sexual trauma more times than they can remember. Tell that to the guy managing to take care of his family in spite of voices he hears telling him lies about himself and others. Tell that to the girl having a panic attack in a class and finishing anyway. People with mental illness are not more strong or weak than anyone else. They have to deal with more emotionally, but there are the weak and the strong among us just as there are among any other demographic. We're all just humans and mental illness can happen to any of us.

People With Mental Illness are Violent

This myth is particularly damaging to people with mental illness. I'm not going to argue that there aren't volatile individuals among us. I won't argue that sometimes an agitated sufferer can act out. However, I will argue that mentally ill people aren't the cause of gun violence in America. Mentally ill people don't even make up the majority of gun violence perpetrators. Numbers seem to point to mentally ill individuals being more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators. As for myself, it would take a lot to get me to do something violent. I'm terrified of even accidentally hurting someone, let alone doing it on purpose.

Mental Disorders Aren't Medical Conditions

Thanks to Scientology, anti-pharm and armchair doctors across the world, there is a common misconception that mental disorders aren't the same as medical conditions. Thanks for that one, guys. That's why you can't get decent help in an ER for a psych crisis. Your brain is part of your body. I'm not sure if they've noticed that yet, but yeah. It's not separate. It's an organ inside of your body. If it malfunctions, you have a medical condition. It's only differentiated inasmuch as a heart doctor is for your heart. A mental health professional is for your brain and may be part of a patient's support team that includes a neurologist.

I get that a lot of misunderstandings come from personal experience with a few mentally ill individuals or simply from ignorance. Just try to remember that anecdotes aren't evidence and what a person does to treat their condition is none of your business. We're all just trying to feel better.