Since finishing An Impossible Life, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a question, that has led to more questions, that came to mind while reading a specific part of Sonja’s story. Her sister Allyson gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and Sonja is there when her sister’s Doctor tells Allyson that, “this is going to be a nasty fight, but you can decide when you’re done.”
Why is it acceptable for physically ill patients to decide when they want to be done but not for mentally ill patients? Why can physically ill patients stop fighting but mentally ill patients are frowned upon if they stop? One is physical, one is mental, and I believe they both have some overlap but why is there such a difference?
I cannot stop thinking about this. And I believe that part of it is because of the stigma that still revolves around mental health. I know a lot of has to do with the fact that physical illness can literally kill and attacks your body. I get that. I get that physically ill patients can be dying. They are fighting for their lives, but so are some of the mentally ill.
Jane Clayson Johnson also talks about this in her book, Silent Souls Weeping. She tells a tale about two sisters – one struggled with mental illness to the point she has been hospitalized, and the other was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. For the sister with cancer, there has been nothing but love, support, donations, and thoughtful phone calls and messages. For the sister with depression, there hasn’t been anything close to that reaction. Instead, there is frustration, judgment, and harsh comments. The sister with depression wishes she could be in the shoes of the sister with cancer. Then she could die in an acceptable way, no one would judge her, and her kids and family would be taken care of.
How twisted is this?!
Why don’t we take meals to those working through seasonal affective disorder during the winter? We do when someone has their appendix or gall bladder removed. Why don’t we offer to help watch someone’s kids when their depression makes it hard to get out of bed? We do when someone has a broken arm or leg and can’t do as much. Why don’t we offer to hang out with someone whose anxiety makes them nervous to be alone? We hang out with friends and family all the time.
I have never made an attempt to take my life, but I have thought about it ending it. (Did you just judge me for admitting that?) And not because I feel that the world or my family and friends would be better off without me, no, because I just want to escape my mind. I want to escape the panic attacks that make me think I am going to die. I want to escape the depression that consumes me to the point that I can hardly bring myself to get out of bed at the beginning of each day and causes me to wonder what my purpose is. I want to escape the fear that I constantly live with. I just want relief.
I’m not downplaying physical illness and the nightmare that it is, I’m asking you not to downplay mental illness and the living Hell it is. They are BOTH illnesses, so why are the people that suffer from them not treated the same?
I know at times I was so good at pretending everything was okay that those around me didn’t realize when depressed I was. I don’t have a really close friend in my LDS ward. My girls can usually tell when I’m really in the dumps. I know you are on target when thinking we should those with mental illness with the same love and compassion as those with physical disorders. The
I think a lot of people with mental illness are really good at pretending everything is ok. I have gotten good at hiding things. It’s our job to open up about it and help people understand.
That’s an interesting article, I had never thought about it before. I think it is partly due to the stigma as you said. Still many people think that if you are mentally ill you are somewhat responsible for it. They’ll admit it is not easy but that you just have to see things positively, that your recovery depends on you only. With physical illnesses, people seem to think that it is the illness against your body, whereas with mental illness they think it is you against yourself, that you create your own problems and therefore can also put an end to them.
There is also I think the idea that physical illness is visible, it is concrete. We have all been sick, we have all felt pain, we know that you can’t just think positively and get cured. You take medicine and if medicine is not enough you don’t feel better and sometimes you can die. Whereas for those who never experienced mental illness, the worst they experienced is being a bit gloomy, a bit sad, but often for a reason, and therefore it’s just a feeling that will go away. They see mental illness based on what they know: non-pathological sadness.
And I think there may be a third reason: we acknowledged the fact that some diseases cannot be cured, but surprisingly I think admitting that some mentally ill people cannot be cured, cannot be helped is the most terrible thing to acknowledge. Even I don’t want to admit it, I want to cling on the hope that each depressed people can be happy. That’s why even I can understand euthanasia for physically ill people, but I cannot conceive it for mentally ill people. And who would decide? Can a mentally ill person decide his or her own die if he or she cannot think properly due to its illness? It’s a very complicated but interesting question.