Why Should I Read about Mental Illness?
by Simonetta Carr
We all have a long list of things to read and do. So why should we read about mental illness if it has not affected our lives? Here are some good reasons.
1. Mental illness can be sudden and unexpected. My son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia caught me unprepared and turned my world upside down. I didn’t know what schizophrenia entailed. I didn’t know it isn’t a split personality disorder. I didn’t know its treatment isn’t as simple as “take these pills and come back in a month.” Because of the general stigma that accompanies most cases of mental illness, I didn’t even know that my cousin had lived for decades with the same condition. Most of all, I didn’t know what to do. I don’t want you to feel as helpless as I did.
2. Mental illness is all around us. I wish I had learned sooner about mental illness so I could have been more understanding of other people’s struggles. When I finally opened my heart to others, I was surprised to see how many around me shared similar situations—how many had relatives or loved ones with schizophrenia or other forms of mental illness. My experience made me see others in a new light and fostered a desire to relate to them in a deeper way than the usual coffee chat after morning service. You can become a more compassionate and helpful voice in your social group.
3. We need to make informed judgments. It’s important that we don’t fall prey to the common misconceptions and generalizations that are connected with mental illness, such as the idea that people who live with a mental illness are more prone to violence than others. Despite the overly publicized news, countless studies have denied this notion. In fact, people with a serious mental illness are at a higher risk of becoming victims of violence as a consequence of this widespread misinformation. Our judgments are not just inaccurate and hurtful—they are counterproductive, causing more people with mental illness to hide their needs, for fear of being seen as potential criminals. By educating ourselves, we can make the situation for those living with mental illness better rather than worse.
In essence, we need to read about mental illness because we all need to know about it. Lack of knowledge can make us careless—using words like psycho, schizo, or crazy to describe others. It can cause us to make easy generalizations—explaining away tragedies or treating all cases of mental illness the same way. It leaves us unprepared. And it also creates isolation for those we don’t understand.
A young woman recently described to me a program in her nursing school. The students were taken to mental health facilities—both locked units and community settings—to observe the patients. Some of the students were initially nervous, but in the end, they felt much more comfortable and began to interact with patients as persons.
And that is key. All human beings are fellow image-bearers of the one who made us and loves us. We don’t need to visit mental health facilities to interact with people who experience mental illness. We will find them in our families, our churches, and our communities. Reading about mental illness prepares us to serve and love them well.
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