By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN
Happiness is the highest form of health. — Dalai Llama
Once upon a time there was a belief that people with mental illness were looked down upon, seen as having character flaws and an willingness to work hard enough to fit in and get along. So the powers that be (who are those people?) decided that there was a big stigma for people suffering with mental illness and that the stigma prevented people from getting the help that they needed. These folks considered what could be done to eliminate this stigma. The hope was that making a change could mean that more people might be more willing to get needed help.
How could this be accomplished?
Change the name of mental illness to mental health!
Yes, that’s right. The depth of the solution was simply to change the words used to describe the “condition.” What happened is that the words mental health are now used to describe mental illness or mental disturbance. AND there is still a very large stigma attached with these words: mental health.
Mental health is now understood to mean mental illness and mental disturbance. People are still seriously slow, reluctant or completely refuse to get the help they so sorely need. Associating the words “mental health problems” with the many mass shootings does not help either.
There are some serious aspects to the complex issues regarding mental illness needing to be addressed not the least of which is stigma. The entire “science” of mental illness is seriously questionable. (Want to understand this more? Please refer to the extensive research and study in the books by Terry Lynch and Robert Whitaker.*) The National Institute of Mental Health – please read this as The National Institute of Mental Illness since what is described on their website is a wide range of mental illnesses, and nothing about health – has finally acknowledge that there is no “chemical imbalances in the brain” for those suffering from mental illness. Brain chemical imbalance was a false claim started by drug companies as a marketing ploy — and sadly a very successful campaign.
The irony is that present times insist on evidence based practices. And yet the preponderance of research, done by the psychiatric community and drug companies themselves point to the evidence that medication has temporary, short term positive results ending with long term disasters for people’s lives. (Again please refer to the books cited at the end of this article. Rick Hansen made note of this during his recent interview on Mental Health & Happiness 2015 Summit).
Changing attitudes, beliefs, and stigma about anything is not an easy process. Making these kinds of changes for mental illness is no exception. Much more needs to be done rather than the simple solution of changing a name. (The recent upgrade for mental health is the change to call it behavioral health.) Changes that include honest representation of what is known and not known about mental illness would help. Sharing honest information about the short term and long term effects of medication would also help.
And there is one more action that each one of us can take. Stop using mental health or behavioral health when what you mean is mental illness and mental disturbance. Making the term mental health interchangeable with mental illness has done nothing to eliminate stigma. But if we all start using the term Mental Health & Happiness to mean just that perhaps people suffering with mental illness and mental disturbance will have a goal to aim for.
As the Dalai Llama tells us Happiness is the highest from of health.
*Depression Delusion, Volume one: The myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance, Terry Lynch
Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker
Mad in America, Robert Whitaker