This is a topic I’ve written about before, probably most notably here: The Conversation Around Mental Health Is Long Overdue – And We’re Screwing It Up | Nutmegger Daily – Quality writing on many topics. For some reason, though, it seems to be easily forgotten. I hope, in my writing, it is always clear that I’m talking about a specific instance of mental illness, mine. I’m afraid I’m not perfect, though, and people will take what I say and try to universalize it. This is just a periodic reminder not to do so. Mental health is not an all-encompassing thing. It’s many, many things that really only have one trait in common, being mental.
For proof that mental health is not one thing, look at the DSM-V. It lists almost 300 distinct mental illnesses. Each one of those has its own particular issues, symptoms, and treatments. Plus, the experience of each separate illness is unique to the individual who has it.
Another way mental illness is not one thing is the way the same condition can present in different ways for different people and at different times. I’ve talked about this before, but my depression comes with insomnia. Other depressed people have hypersomnia. (I have to admit to being a little jealous of those people.) Mine has overeating and eating the wrong things. Other depressed people lose their appetite. Other disorders are similar in this way.
Within the mental health world, treating all mental illnesses as one thing leads to fights, usually over the “medicalization” of mental illness. Some people think that it’s wrong to medicalize mental illness. If you hear voices, don’t take something to make the voices go away. Learn to live with the voices. Others think medicalization is the only real option. Don’t waste your time on meditation, just take this pill instead. Accepting that everyone (and every illness) is different makes either position hard to hold. Do what’s right for you is the real answer.
For those on the outside, it’s also important to realize that no two mental illnesses are alike. It allows those of us who suffer to be treated as individuals. There is no one way to act in the presence of the mentally ill. (A little off topic, but another good reminder is that we are more than our illnesses.) They’re stuck getting to know each person on their own terms.
I hope this reminder helps. I feel like a lot of what I’ve been reading and hearing lately is forgetting that mental health is not one thing. Psychology recognizes almost 300 mental illnesses and there are as many ways of experiencing them as there are people who experience them. It’s worth remembering.