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Friday, 3 April 2020

Understanding Mental Illness

Depression is more than sadness.
Anxiety is more than worrying.
Bipolar is more than mood swings.
OCD is more than 'tidiness.'
ADHD is not 'being hyperactive.'
Addiction is not 'enjoying something'.

And most psychopaths are not serial killers - in fact, many are relatively harmless if you don't piss them off.

It is unfortunate that many mental illnesses or psychological conditions are heavily misconstrued in popular culture. I was a very hyperactive child, always running around and chatting to everyone. As an adult I'm still super chatty and can get easily distracted and fascinated by what's around me. But I do not have ADHD.

Likewise, I like to keep myself clean and shower twice a day, and I have always felt very uncomfortable around scrunched up tissues, or any kind of rubbish. But I do not have OCD, and I am hesistant to label myself a 'germaphobe.'

We as a society have become collectively obsessed with labeling regular human behaviour as 'illness' or 'personality disorder.' This is characterized by the hundreds of mental disorders categorized in the DSM. It is also combined with incorrect depictions of certain illnesses in popular culture.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is probably one of the most mis-labeled psychological conditions, and it doesn't help that people chronically say 'I'm a bit OCD' or 'that's giving me so much OCD.' Not only does this undermine people suffering with OCD, it contributes to collective ignorance about the disorder.

OCD is characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts that physically manifest in compulsive, ritualistic behaviours. Being very clean DOESN'T mean you have OCD. But compulsively washing ones hands as a ritual to get rid of unwanted thoughts IS a symptom of OCD. The enormous ignorance of society in characterizing OCD as 'frequently washing hands' or 'wanting things to be neatly positioned' makes it difficult to actually recognize symptoms of this frustrating and debilitating disorder.

Likewise, ADHD is as much about being hyperactive as having bipolar is about being emotional. People with ADHD struggle to focus and pay attention, and are easily distracted. This isn't simply 'I was doing this then got distracted by that', it's a chronic part of daily life. They zone in and out of conversations, they become quickly bored and unfocused on repetitive activities, they have little self-awareness regarding what they are doing due to a general lack of focus. They also 'hyperfocus', which I imagine is their mind zooming in on one thing and becoming so absorbed by it that it's impossible to pay attention to anything else.

I feel like there are two types of mental 'conditions'. ADHD, autism and OCD chronically characterize a person's life. I am reluctant to refer to them as 'illnesses', so much as conditions or even personalities. Depression and anxiety, on the other hand, are not part of a person's personality. They come and go depending on the situation. Depression is episodic in nature; I've had maybe eight heavily depressive episodes in my life where I've felt suicidal, or simply apathetic and empty, haven't enjoyed what I'm doing or had much energy.

Thankfully, more people are becoming aware that depression is not 'feeling sad constantly.' Due to how common depression is, we're realizing that it affects people of all personality types, not just introverted or antisocial people. Many extroverted, bubbly people suffer from clinical depression, just as with anxiety. These illnesses do not affect a person's personality, but their moods and temperament.

ADHD becomes very much a part of a person's character, which is why it really shouldn't be classed as an 'illness.' In fact, ADHD and autism are not 'bad' or negative conditions, they're just part of some people. OCD typically has a negative effect on a person's life so I would view this more as an illness.

One could probably say the same about psychopathy; a psychopath is not necessarily 'ill', their brain just operates atypically, thus affecting their behaviour. You can't stop being a psychopath or having ADHD, but you can stop being depressed or anxious.

If you're struggling with your mental health, particularly during the coronavirus, and need someone to talk to, here are some links below that may help.

Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/talk-us-phone/

Mind Mental Health: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak

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