May was Mental Health Awareness Month, have you heard of it?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, have you heard of it? Chances are you have because not only is this commonly talked about but you see pink ribbons everywhere, see NFL players wearing pink cleats or sweat bands, and the commercials and billboards will remind you if all else fails.
So, what's the difference? Breast cancer is something you are diagnosed with and even though you may not have ensured you got a mammogram every year, there's a widely acceptable belief that cancer is non-discriminatory, there's no way to prevent it, and there's no way to totally cure it. It's unpredictable and it's an illness that no matter how healthy you are, it just might choose you. When someone has an illness we often send cards, flowers, cook meals, maybe show up to the hospital, and often feel horrible for the pain and suffering they are going through; because they didn't choose it, cancer chose them and that's such a tragedy. If you asked someone who has breast cancer if they would rid their body of it if they could, they'd probably say yes, right? But instead, they go to doctors appointments and wait anxiously for treatment to work. They aren't powerless or helpless completely, yet they are on a road to recovery that involves many other factors than just their own control and power.
Depression would fall under the category of Mental Health as a Mental Illness, so why is this illness treated so different than the illness of cancer? Why do many people still believe that depression is a "mind over matter", " you could have prevented this" " pull yourself together, this is just weakness", "just keep going, it's not that hard" sort of illness? Mental Illness is a cancer-like sickness that pervades the mind, body, and spirit. It is unpredictable, doesn't matter how much money you make, how great your family is, or what you look like. It doesn't always have a trigger or reason and sometimes it takes months to find something that helps heal it. If you asked someone with depression if they would cure it themselves if they could, most would say absolutely. But instead, they go to doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists waiting anxiously for the sickness to stop spreading into their life. They aren't completely powerless or helpless, yet they are not the only one that can solve it. Just like cancer, there may be some things the person could have done to prevent the likelihood of getting it--so why in the mental health world we blame the patient for their illness but not the patient for their cancer? Why do we too often run away from these individuals in our life instead of showing up to the hospital or their home with flowers and a card and never giving up on them?
Many mental illnesses are treatable and manageable with the right care, concern, and knowledge. Understanding and treating mental health as an illness is the first step in this process. Check back in a few days to continue this conversation as to why it can be so hard to view both illnesses in the same way.