ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Burning Bridges vs. Building Them

By Jack Bragen
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:01:00 PM

When someone receives a diagnosis that they are mentally ill, often they lose a number of their friends. Many people, it seems, do not want to associate with someone who has a mental illness. If the illness has caused someone to behave in ways that people can't accept, that person could lose more friends. 

Having some type of mental health diagnosis is more socially acceptable than it was in the past. However, there are still numerous people who will shun a mentally ill person, as if the person was an unwholesome creature. In some cases, we are regarded much as criminals would be. 

A person with mental illness may have to live without benefiting from the lifetime friendships that some other people cherish. This is very painful, especially since we didn't bring the illness on ourselves. 

For some, a mental illness can bring some level of inconsistency, in which appointments are missed or in which we show up late for things--or even impolitely early. A person with mental illness may require extra sick days in their job. 

Absences from a job because of being too depressed to work that day do not go over well with 99 percent of employers. This is so including in instances where someone has disclosed their illness to the employer. Thus, a person with mental illness, if they need a day off, must fabricate a cold, flu, or food poisoning. This is a bit unfair because mental illness is also an illness, and it would be nice if employers were more understanding about that. They typically believe that if you're depressed you "ought to work anyway," because "no one feels like coming in if they don't have to…" 

How does this connect? Because it causes a person with mental illness to burn their bridges with many of their employers--increasing the number of people to whom one can not go back. 

When someone has a past relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend that didn't end on ideal terms, it is another source of people to whom one can not return. Persons with mental illness are not always as proficient at handling a relationship. Relationships may not last as long and may have a messier breakup compared to non-afflicted people. (This is not to say that all persons with mental illness can't handle relationships, there are many who can. And this is not to say, either, that persons without a mental illness are usually great at relationships. Relationships are a source of contention for anyone, with or without a psychiatric condition.) 

Thus, there are many places, people and things to which we can't return. Some of this is caused by people's ignorant hatred of someone different. Some of it is brought about by behavior caused by the illness--behavior that people do not understand. 

Mental illness has probably been in existence for thousands of years, and yet people still seem to be perplexed by it. Advances in medical science that allow us to have some limited understanding of mental illness have only been made in the past five decades. Before that, a mentally ill person was simply "mad," "the town idiot," or perhaps someone unable to survive. 

In the not too distant past, the subject of mental illnesses was not welcome in conversation. If someone had an aunt or cousin with schizophrenia, the relative was never talked about. 

The above two paragraphs might explain why people are now just beginning to get a clue about the problems, the needs, and the very existence of people with mental illness. This could, in the near future, lead to persons with mental illness becoming more accepted, and more often forgiven for problems of the illness that are some of the time beyond our control. 

My books for sale on Amazon, including but not limited to "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia; a Self Help Manual," can be accessed by clicking here.