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Changing Minds, Transforming Lives - Life Can Work When You Get The Right Support


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Emotional and Mental Illnesses very often pose a special concern for both family members and physicians - that of deciding whether a given set of abnormal feelings and behavior do or do not constitute a mental disorder. There is no swab test, nor no temperature reading, to act as irrefutable evidence of the existence of a mental disorder. There is only a distortion of human emotions, behaviors and actions. Yet the line between what is distorted and what is normal is not fixed by science, it varies from society to society, and even within our own culture. The area of mental health has been rapidly changing in recent decades.

In past years, the strange conduct or the personal misery of an eccentric, the hermit, the religious fanatic, the timid soul, the Don Juan, and the village idiot, among others, were thought to be within the limits of normality. Changing social standards and the growth of psychology into a science are, however, leading us to classify these as psychological elements capable of being diagnosed and in many cases relieved or cured.

Practitioners of mental health today are concerned not only with the grossly disturbed patient, but with troubled children, single parents, alcoholics, persistent individuals who marry and divorce, job hoppers, and numerous other signals and signs. Some people still regard these individuals as "self-indulgent" or "weaklings" unable to cope with life but mental health professionals see these mentally ill people as victims of a broad range of psychological disorders, unable to end their troubles simply by an act of will or the decision to do what is right.

Because the popular acceptance of mental health is very recent, many people still are frightened or angered by any statement that their own failures or dissatisfaction of their lives might be the products of an emotional illness. The same people, however, willingly call the common cold or the ingrown toenail, or a simple rash a form of disease, and take the steps to get rid of it. When they are able to think and act as rationally about emotional and mental illnesses, sometimes including quite minor ones, they will have gone a long way toward making their distorted lies both happier and healthier.

Definitions and Symptoms:
Yet today, there still exists no general accepted definition the mental health professional can offer to guide or assist the average person as to the precise meaning of "normal" or "abnormal", "emotionally healthy" or "emotionally ill". Sigmund Freud, when asked what the normal person should be able to do, replied, "he should be able love and to work."

Psychologist and psychiatrist had added somewhat to his reply: the normal person should also be able to play, to see the people and things around him without distortion, to live relatively free from pain, and to obtain a good deal of satisfaction from life.

In contrast, the emotionally or mentally ill person may feel undue or lasting distress, suffer from "limitation of function" - that is, be unable to work as well as their abilities warrant, or unable to live with, and love, other people adequately, unjustly misinterpret or us understand the words and actions of other people around them, seeing, for instance, hostility where there really is friendliness or at least neutrality, and be unable to take joy in play, and satisfaction from their accomplishments.

Warning signs:
Many of these criteria are hard for the average person to judge, but they often produce specific and very recognizable symptoms.

Among the more common ones, the presence of which should act as a warning sign, are symptoms such as these:

  • Waves of severe anxiety not related to any realistic threat
  • Sexual disorders such as impotence and frigidity, promiscuity, and perversion
  • Inability to hold on to a job
  • Self-destructive acts, including heavy drinking, persistent gambling, and risky or daring deeds
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Unreasonable fears of foods, germs, or vehicles
  • Unjustified feelings of persecution
  • Apathy, and fatigue for which there is no physical cause
  • Temper tantrums and rages
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions and so

No one of these symptoms stated above is adequate evidence, for the average person, to assume the existence of any one special kind of psychological disorder or mental health illness.

The understanding of symptoms can be very complex, and only the mental health profession will be able to diagnose the condition. But the average person who is familiar with these major warning signals can at least recognize when they, or someone in their family, needs professional help to evaluate, diagnosis, and provide the proper therapy care.

People long thought it was their destiny or fate to suffer from emotional and mental distress. Today we know that it may be a person's lot to fall prey on such conditions, but that they need not passively ignore them. Today they have a choice to seek the necessary treatment to help alleviate their suffering.

With emotional and mental illnesses, as with physical ones, the most important question to decide is whether or not, that a particular condition requires treatment, and if so, what is available? What type?

A bruise or a common cold for example will get better, thanks to our body's reparative processes and in most cases heal without professional attention. In the same way, many of our sadness, anxieties, and nervous disabilities we suffer from are minor and self terminated, or are basic to the human condition and are not significantly changed by treatment.

When is treatment necessary?
Each person must therefore decide preferably with professional help, whenever needed - whether a given emotional or mental disorder in themselves or a member of their family is serious enough to require treatment, or could be eliminated with treatment. It would be both unrealistic and unfair to urge all people to seek treatment for every psychological disorder.

In a sense, it is for the individual who feels the need for assistance to decide whether they want to be changed, or to continue as they are. Yet a decision made by oneself may be an uninformed decision, based on insufficient evidence and made the more erroneous by the distortion of the emotional disorder itself. It is absurd to avoid the doctor until a cancer has metastasized, it is equally absurd to allow an emotional disorder to progress until it produces emotional/behavioral breakdown.

Even though there has been case studies that say many untreated nervous conditions get better by themselves, others case studies indicate that many of them grow worse and become catastrophic. When there is therapeutic intervention, however, approximately 2/3 of the clients treated by psychological methods show distinct improvement or cure.

The clearest evidence in favor of active mental health treatment comes from mental hospitals. Several generations ago, when individuals with psychotic episodes were locked up in mental hospitals and given next to no treatment, a great many of them grew worse and worse, becoming virtual vegetables. Today with combined psychological therapies and/or combined with medication we see extensive improvement in individuals.

As I already pointed out, the choice of treatment or no treatment is more or less up to the individual, although they may need professional advice in making that decision. Assuming a person does want relief from emotional or behavioral distress, they face a second decision. What type of treatment and how prolonged do they need?

In many instances where symptoms are not severe and not deeply ingrained as a pattern of behavior, great help can be obtained in a few sessions of therapy. For deeper seated difficulties, deep reaching therapy may be needed. In the case of more serious disorders including psychosis and other serious mental disorders, the choices may be somewhat narrower. If the individual can be maintained at home, it is often better for them to stay with their family. Yet sometimes the presence of a borderline psychotic while living at home may produce emotional stress in other family members. A psychiatrist or other mental health professionals opinion on such a decision is almost essential. If the decision is in favor of hospitalization, the second question is whether to apply to a private hospital, private facility, clinic or in a outpatient setting. Realize that this is a matter of your economic and financial situation.

Mental Health America

Mental Health America (formerly known as the National Mental Health Association) is the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping ALL people live mentally healthier lives. With 240 affiliates nationwide, we represent a growing movement of Americans who promote mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation – everyday and in times of crisis.