The next several posts contain important information about the world of mental health, including mental illness and its treatment. I’m going to mostly paint with a broad brush and not make any assumptions about what my readers know or don’t know. If there is a specific mental health-related topic you want me to be sure to cover, please leave a comment on this post.
Everyone needs to know this stuff. A recent informal poll of my Facebook friends concluded that the average layperson’s knowledge of mental health is at zero or close to it. And, the poll determined, there is considerable misinformation about mental health in our society. That seems to suggest that what people think they know may not be accurate.
Chances are very high that you are being affected in some way by mental illness, whether you are aware of it or not. The rough number for the percentage of people who will develop a diagnosable mental illness during their lifetime is over 25%, a number supported by many scientific studies and the DSM 5. If you don’t have a mental illness and won’t have one in your lifetime, someone in your family does have or will have one, most likely. In my experience, largely due to stigmatization, a lot people with a mental disorder decline to be assessed and/or present for treatment. And the sufferer may not share his/her symptoms with others, even close friends and family, due to fear of criticism or judgment by others. A large part of the reason for the stigmatization of the mentally ill in our society is lack of information about mental health in general or lots of information that is just plain wrong.
In the next several posts, I hope to provide some solid perspectives on mental illness and better prepare you for interactions with those struggling with their mental health. I also hope to make you better prepared to deal with mental illness if/when it strikes *you*. As your knowledge base broadens, so will your empathy for the mentally ill. As you become more empathic, you also become more safe–someone whom a mental illness victim would trust to share their struggles with.
Of all the blog posts I have made so far, this series of posts on mental health is the one I most want you to read.
Let’s start with a couple definitions.
Definition of a Mental Disorder
Here is the definition of a Mental Disorder from the DSM 5 (DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We clinicians use the most current edition to date, which is the DSM 5. It’s the mental health bible of sorts.):
A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities. An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder. Socially deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.
“Clinically significant” means that a condition causes impairment or distress severely enough as to need treatment. It further assumes that a condition is likely to stay the same or get worse without intervention and that the condition will likely improve with appropriate treatment.