Is the Occurrence of a Mental Illness Random?

How people acquire a mental illness still remains a mystery.

Is it communicable? Is it spiritual? Is it a curse? Is it hereditary? Or does it have to do with an imbalance in our neuro-chemicals? With so many different theories out there, it is hard to know which one is widely accepted.

I will not claim to have the answers to these burdening questions, but I will shed some light based on my experience working in mental health institutions. Therefore, the contents of this article are strictly my opinion.

The occurrence of mental illnesses is not random! Let me explain. I have had the privilege of examining the mental state of people from both the spiritual and scientific angles.  At times, there is a need to eliminate life experiences and attribute the cause to certain conditions of the brain or spiritual problems. There is a psychological model called the diathesis-stress model which explains that someone may have a vulnerability to a mental health issue. The diathesis, for example, can be an early childhood trauma or a parent who suffered from mental illness. This predisposition would then need to interact with a life event (the stress) which could trigger the onset of a mental disorder. Some of these life events could be a breakdown in one’s marriage, the death of a loved one, etc. There are also protective factors that shield one from acquiring a mental illness such as a secure attachment with a childhood caregiver, employment, etc. Most times, these mental illnesses, triggered by these life events, manifest from the onset and impinge gradually until they become more serious.

We cannot treat mental health the same way as physical health. You cannot just treat the ‘illness’ or symptoms and forget about the individual. Mental health is personal and no two people are the same, even if they both have the same diagnosis. When we shift our perspective of mental health to the individual, this changes what treatment should be available for recovery. Certain clinical methods need to be prescribed so that one can fully understand their life story and how various factors may have contributed to their current state. An example of this is psychotherapy. It can be scary but also empowering because it gives the power to the individuals and makes them realize that they probably are not crazy or their brain decided to randomly stop functioning. Usually, the brain responds to the environment. If there were stressful life events, it may have manifested in the functioning of the brain.

I am a firm believer in not seeing people with mental illnesses as their clinical labels; Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. I understand there are important descriptors to diagnose and implement the correct treatment. However, I believe we need to look beyond these labels to see the human being underneath. So, instead of seeing someone as only a mentally ill person, maybe we can say they are human beings going through a mentally ill experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kawthar is a psychology graduate currently working as a research assistant in mental health in the UK. She plans become a qualified clinical psychologist in the near future. She is passionate about removing the stigma around mental health and also examining the cultural and social context in which a person’s mental health evolves from.

All Patients with Mental Disorders Are Not Violent

The world keeps developing and our ways of thinking keep changing due to exposure to different developments around us. Although the way the society thinks of mental illness has changed, it has not changed as much as it ought to.

One of the major problems that mentally ill patients face, especially in collectivistic societies, is being termed as violent people. Many people still hold on to that misconception that every mentally ill patient is a violent person. The reverse is the case really; being mentally ill does not automatically make one violent. Even those that exhibit violent tendencies act that way not because they want to hurt others, but because it is a form of coping mechanism. Violent behaviours amongst mentally ill people is an externalized expression of symptoms and a way of dealing with conflict, fear, and goal-blockage.

People with mental disorders have a lot going for them, especially those in countries that think being mentally ill is something to be ashamed of. When patients are accused of being dangerous, it can have a demoralizing effect on their visions for relationships, employment, housing, and social functioning. A study stated that symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, rather than the diagnosis itself, appear to exhibit or show tendencies of violent behaviours. Another study by Harvard (2011), shows that not all people suffering from major mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia have high tendencies of acting violently, but rather people with the illness and history of psychotic thoughts that influence their behaviours that stand a higher risk of acting violently when they have symptoms of some mental disorders. Also, when a personality disorder happens in combination with another psychiatric disorder, the blend may escalate the risk of violence. Patients suffering from hallucinations or delusional thoughts are also at a higher risk of exhibiting violence because they may abide by their irrational thoughts hence misinterpreting the actions of others as dangerous, thus respond violently. On the other hand, patients with symptoms of social withdrawal, sleep-wake disorders etc. are at a lower risk of acting aggressively.

There are as many mental disorders that patients are at lower risk of acting aggressively just the way there are some that patients are at higher risk of acting violently.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Saratu Abubakar is a young lady who majors in Journalism and minors in Psychology at the American University of Sharjah. She is passionate about mental health and aims to pursue a masters in social psychology after her undergraduate. She loves writing and that has led her into writing a fictional novel.

Standing in my Truth

Living with depression and anxiety is one thing, but add a disability to it and you have what some would call a recipe for disaster. This is my life as it stands! Before you ask, nothing happened. I was born with the inability to walk, and you know the crazy thing? I love it! Yes, I have my days, but overall I would not have it any other way. I am growing to be the opinionated, big spirited and unapologetically smart-mouthed tomboy I was born to be. After two suicide attempts, a long history of self-harm, and struggling to live according to everyone’s standards and expectations of me, I have had no choice but to be me.

I am not here to prove myself to you or glorify how great my life is because that would be a lie. I am here in hope that you seek some solace in my words because growing up, all I wanted was for someone to make sense of what was happening to me; tell me that I was not crazy and that there was possibly a deeper reason to why I would come home from school to cry for hours then proceed not to eat for hours because nothing was appetising to me, or I just could not move from my bed. Most of all, I just wanted someone to tell me it was okay to be me in every sense of the word.

I am here to take your hand. You will feel me cry through my words. I swear to you, it is the simple act of writing that has saved me one too many times. So, if you are reading my words, know that you are providing me with a release, and in a sense, you are saving me from the demons that depressions and anxiety have forced me to see. I know it is a confusing place to be in because at times I struggle to explain what is happening to me, but know it is fine not to understand. The thing to never forget is to speak; either to someone or getting it out in the correct way. Go for a run, sing, listen to music, or even breathe. Just do not let it lock you in. I say this from experience as someone who stayed mute for eight years. I cried silently at night (I actually mastered the art of making tears fall, but not making a single sound), starved myself repeatedly, and went to the gym and exercised to the point where black spots were behind my eyes and I was close to passing out. I even stabbed myself on numerous occasions and had violent meltdowns to the point that I forgot where I was and did not know who was around me. Strangely, all these happened secretly for eight years and I ignored it, playing it down like it was normal.

It will catch up with you, I promise. Oh no, I am not saying this to scare you, but simply because it always happens (it happened to me).  Depression sees no age, gender or ability. It sets up shop and grows till it blows and by that point, it is unavoidable. It took me owning the situation to fight it so all I say is, find what works for you and conquer it slowly. That might include taking drastic steps like I had to when I decided to take a gap year from university and restructure my life so I can breathe, or taking smaller steps like spotting signs and coming to terms with it. I am here to make sure you know you are not alone. Whether you are new to this, been living with a mental illness for a while, or know someone who is suffering from it, I am here to tell you it is okay and there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is dim. The year 2016 could very well have been the finish line for me, but I am somehow living to tell my tale.

Oh, and do not get it twisted, you will definitely laugh with me too! This journey is not all doom and gloom, as I am known for getting myself into questionable situations. So, prepare for tears of laughter too. We will smile through this.

Stay beautiful.

ABOUT BLESSING ODUKOYA: On all fours is how her life began; Growing into a young adult in the past is where she remains; Occasionally sitting on two wheels; She saw life through a different lens but her strive to be the same was almost her end game; Failing to see past her self inflicted pain; They undoubtedly became best friends; Only to realise society didn’t live up to her standards anyway.