Don’t Fear Mental Illness

Mental Illness.

It’s going to be an oft tossed about  topic.

Generally speaking many, many, people fear the ‘mentally ill’.

And by no means am I an expert on mental illness, treatment of mental illness or what qualifies for a diagnosis of mental illness.

But I see it on nearly a daily basis because of my work environment.  I work in a protective service field investigating allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation  (please note this is highly different from a service provider).   We work with some people who readily admit their mental illness.  We work with some people who have no idea they have a mental illness.   We work with people who are affected by family with mental illness.   And we get calls from people begging for help for their loved ones who are mentally ill.

Notice I didn’t say “work with” that last group of people.   The ones calling in for help.

In my field it is not what we do.   Though we try to give information to these people desperately seeking help, we have no answers.   Where I work we don’t have the tools or the skill set to help them.  Nor do we have the ‘authority’ to do this type of work.

It is not the mentally ill that I, or in my opinion anyone, should fear.

It is the lack of help, care, and understanding of mental illness.

Historically our world has not understood the mentally ill.  I don’t need to give you a history lesson.   Just do a search on your computer for the history of mental illness and treatment for mental illness.   It is a horrific and ugly picture.

And now?

It’s just as ugly but on an entirely different end of the spectrum.

No one should anticipate, expect or (God forbid) want the care of the mentally ill to ever return to the abusive and inhumane torture it used to be.

I cannot begin to tell you how many calls we get in our office from family, friends and neighbors begging us to do something damnit!

They call in telling us:

You can’t let them keep living like this!  

No one should be allowed to live like this!

How can you let this happen!

We hear desperation, fear and the hardest part for most:  surrender.   People giving up on someone they love.  Someone they want to protect and sometimes feel a need to be protected from.   But most often a family is  overwhelmed and at a loss on how to help their loved one find what they may define as normal.  They want their loved one to have a good life, to enjoy.

I don’t mean to say that all persons with mental illness have a ‘bad’  life.   I’m talking solely in regard to the ‘bad situations’ we see.

Where help is sought.   And help can not be had.  That is what I see most.

I have witnessed, myself, the paranoia, the fear, the isolation.   And to hear a family who suffers terribly because they want something better for their loved one describe the sufferings is difficult.  Especially when always our answer is we can’t.

We can’t force help on someone who in the throes of their illness don’t realize they may need help.

We can’t make someone want to live differently.

We can’t protect someone from themselves.

We went from the frying pan to the fire so to speak.

I don’t fear the mentally ill person.   What I fear is our ignorance.   I am relieved that our world has progressed to the point of recognizing we cannot treat human beings who aren’t like us as subhuman.  I shudder and have nearly vomited when I have read some of the horror that used to qualify as treatment for the mentally ill.

We cannot go back to that.

We have to move forward to something.  Something better than we have.

Sadly I don’t have the answers.   And I may not be popular for saying this, but I do think there are steps that need taken.   There are rare instances where a person’s rights do need to be superceded for the protection of that person and the protection of society.

There needs to be situations where help is forced upon someone who doesn’t recognize they need it.

But above all else, we need to understand better what it is we are dealing with.   Many times we get desperate calls from those who want help for their loved one because they can’t understand why that person doesn’t want help.  But that person is not hurting anyone, themselves or others.   They have differences that aren’t understood.   I’ve had people who are mentally ill tell me they know others don’t understand them, and they themselves recognize they are different.   But their differences do not make them not functional, not lovable and does not mean they are not enjoying their lives.

There is too much not understood, not known, and not provided for.

I don’t fear mental illness.  I fear my ignorance of it.  I fear what we aren’t doing.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Fear Mental Illness

  1. Mental illness does not mean incompetence. It doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to live your life your way. This is an extremely difficult concept for people to understand. You are doing the best you can and that’s all people should expect from you.


  2. As an healthcare provider to our pediatric population, I can assure the pleas for help dealing with a mentally ill loved one is starting earlier and earlier. We have had children as young as 6 and 7 on suicide watch because they are suicidal and/or homicidal. Yes, I said homicidal with a real honest to God plan to kill others! Many of these parents are scared of their own children and are begging for help. There are so few psychiatric beds in central Ohio for our pediatric population that these kids will sit in our hospital for as long as a week, waiting for a psych bed to open up so that they can begin the long road of treatment. Most of these children suffer from ptsd because some horrible “loved” one chose to not treat this child as the precious gift from God that they are. The stigma of mental illness is hard enough to have to bear, they shouldn’t have to be denied care and treatment because. of a lack of funds and resources. America needs to wake up, embrace each other and start putting
    our priorities in order.


    • Not just America 🙂 It is a problem the world over, illness of the mind is the most misunderstood and least helped of all, yet there are so many suffer some form of mental illness.


    • You say so very much here.

      Our local hospital’s psychiatric unit is currently closed at least one full week out of every month.

      We can’t afford to save money on mental health. It does not work that way. At all.

      Thank you for sharing your insight. We need to pay attention and be aware.


  3. This was so beautifully written and so very true. It is also so very sad to me as something close to my heart. My brother suffers from a severe mental illness, and through the years it has been a roller coaster for us, the family members. The illness is misunderstood. Help isn’t provided when needed. And, most of all I have witnessed such an attitude of dismissal when it comes to mental illness whether regarding a patient or simply a topic in conversation. Is it the fear of the unknown that drives this attitude? I don’t have the answers, but I believe with all my heart that something needs to be done to get people the help they need in regards to mental illness. It will not only help patients individually, but also their families and ultimately the world as a whole.


    • Oh LittleMissWordy! I can’t imagine what you and your family have gone through.

      So often we see families just like you described yourselves! Help is wanted, help is sought, help is NOT there.

      I agree with you. Helping the individuals, helps the families, the communities, all of us.


  4. So much insight! And a lot of the same challenges we Alcoholics deal with (and recognize from our own histories)… We can’t MAKE someone want to live differently–until they want to. We can’t protect people from themselves—until they WANT help. We ran into this (again) last week—someone who knows we’re Recovering Alcoholics, wanting us to talk to a family member struggling with Addiction… We’re happy to make ourselves available, but it’s hard to help the family understand that we can’t MAKE someone else want to get sober. Until they do. A lot of similarities.


    • So true so true! We have “rights” as we well should have! And basically we have the right to make horrible decisions and live in a life style choice that others do not understand. And so often our “job” position are asked to force change. I feel horrible telling desperate people that I can’t “make” anyone “do” anything. And it is a choice.

      Sadly though, I do think there are those rare circumstances where “a” persons right to make decisions has to come second to the those of the well being of the greater good (people).

      I understand the similarities you point out.

      And actually have seen person with ‘a’ mental illness choose to not do something that would help them feel “better” because the side effect of what it does to them is “worse” than the “cure”.


  5. That is so true. I noticed/realized that people with mental illness know what they have and know what people think of them especially when they are well medicated so it’s important that we show sympathy to them and treat and respect them like normal people…


  6. Well written/said. You summed it up all so well in your last paragraph. I have a friend whose son is terrorizing her and the rest of her family, a boy who desperately needs help, yet there is no help to be found unless and until something very serious happens. There has got to be a better way…


    • Oh Robin I feel so badly for your friend. All too often I have had that same discussion with families and concerned friends “…no one can force….when this or this happens be ready to act….”

      There must be a better way.


  7. I’m with you, Colleen. “I don’t fear mental illness, I fear what we are NOT doing.” Too many people labeled with mental illnesses are slipping through the cracks. I can’t imagine how troubling the recent events have been for you, especially because of your delicate work environment.


    • I’ve read a good bit, or enough any way, of past treatments for the mentally ill and am horrified by what humans have inflicted on others. We still do it in some ways, though different ways, today.


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