Abby Maliszewski

Part I: Bias 

As someone who has suffered from mental illness my whole life, I often find myself advocating the importance of mental health awareness. In America, mental illnesses are surrounded by a stigma. A stigma that causes society to believe that there is something “wrong” with people who suffer from mental illnesses. Mental illnesses are a growing problem is the United States, and affect more than 42.5 million adults every year. Mental illnesses are a growing problem in the United States and society needs to do more to help those suffering. Growing the awareness of mental illnesses will help erase the stigma.

Part II: Definitions

Anorexia – An eating disorder associated with a lack or loss of appetite for food. Originated from an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. Symptoms include low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong, unhealthy desire to be thin and food restriction.

Anxiety Disorder – Mental disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety is worrying about future events and fear is a reaction to events happening in the present. Symptoms of anxiety disorder include: fast heart rate, shakiness, and panic attacks. Anxiety is not worrying about a test, or basic day to day stress that everyone experiences.

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression) – A disorder that is associated with mood swings usually ranging from depression, or lows, to mania, or highs. Symptoms include periods of depression followed by periods of mania, and vice versa.

Bulimia – An emotional disorder associated with the distortion of one’s body image and an obsessive, unhealthy desire to lose weight. Symptoms include extreme over eating followed by depression and then self induced vomiting and fasting.

Depression (Clinical Depression) – A disorder associated with a persistently depressed mood causing significant decrease in value of life. Symptoms include loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and unexplained physical problems such as reoccurring headaches. Depression is not being sad or a case of the blues.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) – A disorder characterized by a person having two or more distinct personalities. Symptoms include people occasionally becoming a different identity, multiple personalities appearing in a person’s behavior, and memory loss.

Eating Disorders – A range of psychological disorders that are characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits that affects a person’s physical and mental health. Common eating disorders include anorexia and bulimia.

Gender Dysphoria (Transgender) – The dysphoria a person experiences as a result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. This is caused by when one’s sex and gender do not match.

Insomnia – A medical disorder of the sleep patterns of a person or animal. Some disorders are serious enough to cause harm to one’s physical and mental health. Symptoms include teeth grinding, night terrors, difficultly falling or staying asleep.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – A mental disorder where one feels the need to check things repeatedly, perform certain routines repeatedly or have certain thoughts repeatedly. People are unable to control wither the thoughts or activities for more than a short period of time.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A mental disorder developed after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, usually one that threatens a person’s life. Symptoms may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, and alterations in how a person thinks and feels.

Prozac Nation – An autobiography by Elizabeth Wurtsel. The book discusses the author’s experience with atypical depression and how she lived through particularly difficult periods. The autobiography opened many American’s eyes to the effects of depression and the importance of getting help.

Schizophrenia – A mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and the failure to understand what is real. Symptoms include false beliefs, unclear and confused thinking, hearing voices in one’s head, and a lack of motivation.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – A mood disorder in which people are mentally health throughout most of the year, but experience depression symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter.

Part III: Lit Review of Opposing Side

Mental health can be a controversial topic to discuss. Many people believe that mental illnesses aren’t real, despite the research done to contradict their beliefs. There are hundreds of mental illnesses ranging from clinical depression to anxiety disorder to schizophrenia. Everyone affected by mental illness experiences their own symptoms, which makes these diseases hard to define and diagnose. Mental illnesses affect millions of people per year, and can be cured with the proper help.

The CCHR (The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights) is an organization that works to stop the abuse committed due to a person’s mental illness. In their article Behaviors are not Diseases, common mental illnesses are disproven. Around 51 million people have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, despite there not being any actual brain malfunction or biological proof that schizophrenia actually exists. “There is no medical test to verify someone has a brain abnormality or medical condition of schizophrenia,” states the CCHR,  “And while no one claims people can’t become psychotic, the fact remains there is no biological evidence to support schizophrenia as a brain disease or chemical abnormality.” The CCHR believes that people do suffer from poor mental health. People who experience traumatic events often are affect by their experiences, such as soldiers suffering from PTSD after deployment (par 2). The CCHR believes that poor mental health should not be considered a disease, and that people can change their behavior and in turn change their mental health.

Juris doctor, Lawrence Stevens, also believes that there is not enough proof to classify poor mental health as a disease. Stevens’ states that “mental illness has no biological existence,” therefore cannot be classified a disease. “ The idea of mental illness as a biological entity is easy to refute,” says Stevens. The many years of research of mental illness has failed to biologically prove that mental diseases exist. People are diagnosed for mental illnesses by a comparison of symptoms, due to there being no laboratory tests to prove a mental illness. This often leads to patients being misdiagnosed or prematurely diagnosed.

Medical doctor, Thomas Szasz, states, “Psychiatrists and their allies have succeeded in persuading the scientific community, courts, media, and general public that mental illnesses are phenomena independent of human motivation or will.”  Szasz believes that mental illnesses are not real diseases due to a disease being defined as “a demonstrable lesion of cells tissues or organs.” He argues that love is not a disease, but has effects similar to those of mental illnesses on the brain. Szasz believes that mental illnesses should be characterized as behaviors as opposed to diseases.

Licensed psychologist, Phil Hickey, spent much of his career studying schizophrenia. In his piece Schizophrenia is Not An Illness, he talks about the flawed system of diagnosing someone with the disease. Because there is no biological symptoms of a mental illness, people are diagnosed on the “two or more symptom” basis. This system leads to multiple cases of misdiagnosis, and could potentially make one’s mental illness worse. Hickey believes that schizophrenia could be easier diagnosed and treated as multiple different illnesses.

Overall, mental illnesses are difficult to diagnose with no biological proof. Many medical professionals would not classify poor mental health as a disease because it doesn’t affect one’s organs. Due to the lack of biological symptoms, it is hard to classify it as a disease. Medical professionals also believe that people should not be prescribed medicine for a mental illness, because in some cases, medicine makes a mental illnesses worse. The lack of medical proof, and the difficulty of treatment makes medical professionals hesitant to label a mental illness as a disease.

Works Cited

Hickey, Phil. “Schizophrenia Is Not a Real Disease.” Behaviorism and Mental Health. N.p., 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

“No One Is Saying Depression Isn’t Real, but It’s Not a Biological Brain Malfunction or “disease”.” CCHR International. CCHR International, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Stevens, Lawrence, J.D. “Does Mental Illness Exist?” The Antipsychiatry Coalition. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.

Szasz, Thomas. “From Ideas on Liberty.” The Thomas S. Szasz M.D Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsibility. N.p., 23 May 2007. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Part IV

Mental illnesses are some of the most common diseases in the world. There are an estimated 42.5 million people in the US who have some form of a mental illness. There are various forms of mental illnesses that are brought on by various different reasons. Some mental illnesses are caused by past traumatic events, and some are caused by a chemical imbalance in one’s brain. Despite the cause of the mental illness, people usually need professional help to overcome it. Mental health is very important and we need to do more to help those with a mental illness.

Many people who suffer from a mental illness require professional help because they do not have the skills necessary to cope with their mental illness. In Julia Luise Magaardh’s study What Do Patients Think about the Cause of Their Mental Disorder? A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Casual Beliefs of Mental Disorder in Inpatients in Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, the correlation between a person’s beliefs about their mental illness and their likeliness to recover. The study assess there correlation between a patient’s beliefs about their disease and how likely they are to recover. The study shows that people who get help and have a positive outlook on their mental illness are more likely to recover. The study proves that those who get help will find their results more successful.

Mental illness is also surrounded by a stigma. This stigma is created by those who don’t believe in mental illnesses. Many people think that mental illness is “an excuse” or “a personal issue” , when many times it is a chemical imbalance. The stigma causes people suffering from a mental illness to keep it a secret in fear that people will label them as “crazy” or “insane.” In Jonathan Cohn’s The Long and Winding Road of Mental Illness Stigma, the stigma around mental health is discussed in relation to insurance coverage. Many insurance companies do not cover the services required for a mental illness patient to recover. Without these services, many patients do not get the help they need.

In Ethan Watters’ The Americanization of Mental Illness, Watters discusses the reason many people are hesitant to believe mental illnesses are real. This piece discusses how mental illness used to be broken up by location in historic times. Men in Asia suffered from amok, which is a disease where people experience “murderous rage followed by amnesia.” Similar symptoms were not found anywhere else in the world. In late 1900’s, when mental illness began gaining popularity, many people from all over the world admitted to suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. This was the first time that people from all over the world admitted to suffering from the same “madness.” These studies have caused people to believe that mental illness is more people adapting symptoms than actually suffering from the symptoms. It is that action that causes people to doubt the realness of mental illnesses.

Mental illness currently affects 18.2 percent of the adult population in the US. That is nearly one in five people. Every year, the number of people suffering from a mental illness grows. Despite the extensive medical proof that mental illnesses due exist, many people, including doctors, do not believe in mental illnesses. Due to this stigma surrounding mental health, many people do not get the help they need, and often end up hospitalized, or suicidal.

Part V

The Mental Health Stigma

Actress, Carrie Fisher once said, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you” (“Carrie”). Fisher was well known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars Movies. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a young age, and she used her platform to discuss the importance of mental health awareness. Mental health can be a controversial topic to discuss. Many people believe that mental illnesses are not real, despite the extensive research done to contradict their beliefs. There are an estimated 42.5 million people in the United States who suffer from some form of mental illness. There are hundreds of mental illnesses ranging from clinical depression to anxiety disorder to schizophrenia, and everyone affected by mental illness experiences their own symptoms, which makes these diseases hard to define and diagnose. Some mental illnesses are caused by past traumatic events, while others are caused by a chemical imbalance in one’s brain. Despite the cause of the mental illness, people usually need professional help to overcome the illness. Society needs to do more to help those with a mental illness, and help end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

There are many different mental illnesses a person can suffer from. There are anxiety disorders, depressions (extreme lows), manics (extreme highs), compulsive disorders, etc. Almost everyone who suffers from a mental illness has unique symptoms. Mental illnesses are hard to diagnose and cure because there is no way to biologically test someone for a mental illness. When someone is tested for a mental illness, an X-ray or MRI will not show anything. Mental illness could be compared to “thoughts” when talking about how they come up on a medical test.. Due to this, mental illnesses are diagnosed based on emotional symptoms. Many mental illnesses share similar symptoms, for example both anxiety and depression list changes in a person’s sleep schedule and appetite as possible indicators. This often causes patients to be misdiagnosed, or prematurely diagnosed, which can lead to other problems regarding the patient’s mental well being (“No”). For example, being put on the wrong antidepressant can cause a person’s depression to worsen, often ending in self harm or suicide attempts.

Mental illnesses currently affect 18.2 percent of the adult population in the United States. That is nearly one in five people. Every year, the number of people suffering from mental illnesses grow. Despite the extensive medical proof that mental illnesses do exist, many people, including medical professionals, do not believe in mental illnesses. Due to this stigma surrounding mental illnesses, many people do not receive the help they need, and often end up hospitalized, or suicidal. This stigma has been created by members of society who do not believe mental illness are real. The mental health stigma is said to be “the biggest barrier to mental health care” according to Psychology Today (Friedman).  This stigma causes people suffering from a mental illness to keep it a secret in fear that people will label them as “crazy” or “insane”.

Many people who suffer from a mental illness require professional help because they do not have the skills necessary to cope with their mental illness. In Julia Luise Magaardh’s study What Do Patients Think about the Cause of Their Mental Disorder? A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Casual Beliefs of Mental Disorder in Inpatients in Psychosomatic Rehabilitation, Magaard discusses the correlation between a person’s beliefs about their mental illness and their likeliness to recover. The results show that people who get professional help and have a positive outlook on their future in regards to their mental illness are more likely to recover. This study proves that those who receive help will be more likely overcome their mental illness. (Magaard). Many people view therapy as something only used with “crazy people” due to the stigma surrounding mental health. In reality, therapists spend their sessions teaching patients healthy and simple ways to cope with their mental illness. Therapy teaches patients essential coping skills including: breathing techniques, how to avoid “triggers” and what to do when your mental illness takes over. Many of the lessons learned in therapy are used on a daily basis by patients.

Due to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, people with mental illnesses to hide their suffering to seem “normal”. Many members of society also stereotype people with a mental illness as “crazy” or “insane”, when many times a chemical imbalance in one’s brain causes mental illnesses. Chemical imbalances can be caused by many factors, but are usually due to a reduction of a certain neurotransmitter (chemicals that assist in transmitting signals throughout the brain). These neurotransmitters include serotonin and norepinephrine. A lack of serotonin affects a person’s mood, appetite, and sleep schedule. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that contributes to a person’s feelings of wellbeing and happiness. A leaking of this chemical into the rest of the brain often causes people to suffer from a variety of mental illnesses (“Serotonin”).

In Jonathan Cohn’s The Long and Winding Road of Mental Illness Stigma, the stigma around mental health is discussed in relation to insurance coverage. Many insurance companies do not cover the services required for a mental illness patient to recover. Without these services, many patients do not get the help they need. On average, a professional counseling appointment costs around $385 depending on the type and location. Many people do not have the money to visit a therapist once a week, which is the recommended amount of visits for someone suffering from depression (Cohn).

Despite the extensive research done to prove the legitimacy of mental illnesses, many people believe that mental illnesses are not a real illness. The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights (The CCHR) is an organization that works to stop the abuse of oneself, or other humans, due to a person’s mental illness. In their article Behaviors are not Diseases, common mental illnesses are disproven. Around 51 million people have been diagnosed with schizophrenia around the world, despite there not being any actual brain malfunction or biological proof that schizophrenia actually exists. “There is no medical test to verify someone has a brain abnormality or medical condition of schizophrenia,” states the CCHR,  “And while no one claims people can’t become psychotic, the fact remains there is no biological evidence to support schizophrenia as a brain disease or chemical abnormality.” The CCHR believes that people do suffer from poor mental health. People who experience traumatic events often are affected by their experiences, such as soldiers suffering from PTSD after deployment. The CCHR believes that poor mental health should not be considered a disease, and that people can change their behavior and in turn change their mental health.

Medical doctor, Thomas Szasz, states, “Psychiatrists and their allies have succeeded in persuading the scientific community, courts, media, and general public that mental illnesses are phenomena independent of human motivation or will.”  Szasz believes that mental illnesses are not real diseases due to a disease being defined as “a demonstrable lesion of cells tissues or organs.” He argues that love is not a disease, but has effects similar to those of mental illnesses on the brain (Szasz). Szasz believes that mental illnesses should be characterized as behaviors as opposed to diseases.

Licensed psychologist, Phil Hickey, spent much of his career studying schizophrenia. In his piece Schizophrenia is Not An Illness, he talks about the flawed system of diagnosing someone with the disease. Because there are no biological symptoms of a mental illness, people are diagnosed on the “two or more symptom” basis. The “two or more symptom” system helps doctors diagnose people with mental illnesses. A person is suffering from two or more symptoms of a mental illness for an extended period of time is usually an indicator of a mental illness. This system leads to multiple cases of misdiagnosis, and could potentially make one’s mental illness worse. Hickey believes that schizophrenia could be diagnosed easier and treated as multiple different illnesses (Hickey). Many medical professionals would not classify poor mental health as a disease because it does not affect one’s organs. Due to the lack of biological symptoms, classifying any mental illness as a disease can be difficult. Medical professionals also believe that people should not be prescribed medicine for a mental illness because in some cases, medicine makes a mental illnesses worse. The lack of medical proof and the difficulty of treatment makes medical professionals hesitant to label a mental illness as a disease.

In Ethan Watters’ The Americanization of Mental Illness, Watters discusses the reason many people are hesitant to believe mental illnesses are real. This piece discusses how mental illness used to be broken up by location in historic times. Men in Asia suffered from amok, which is a disease where people experience “murderous rage followed by amnesia.” Similar symptoms were not found anywhere else in the world (Watters). In the late 1900s, when mental illness began gaining media attention, many people from all over the world admitted to suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. This was the first time that people from all over the world admitted to suffering from the same “madness.” These studies have caused people to believe that mental illness is more people adapting symptoms than actually suffering from the symptoms. That action that causes people to doubt the realness of mental illnesses.

Being wrongly diagnosed causes many problems for the patient. The main problem is medication. If a person is placed on the wrong medication, it will have negative affects on their brain. Antipsychotics (medicines used for mental illnesses) all have their own job. If someone is given the wrong medicine, it will change the way their brain works. People suffering from depression should be put on antidepressants for the best possible results, not an anti-anxiety medicine (Henderson). Due to the similar symptoms of anxiety and depression, people often get misdiagnosed. This misdiagnosis leads the patient to being put on the wrong medicine, causing a chemical problem in the brain.

Society not characterizing mental illnesses as diseaseS create many problems for those suffering. One of the problems is the stigma. Many people think that because a mental illness has no biological proof, that means it is not a real disease and should not be treated like one. That means it would not be listed on a patient’s problem list, making new doctors unaware of the patient’s mental illness. This could be detrimental to a person’s mental health. This also means sick days for mental illness would not be allowed without a doctor’s note.

Insurance companies not characterizing a mental illness as a disease causes many problems for those affected. If mental illnesses are not looked at as a disease, chances are they are not covered by insurance. Most people with a mental illness need to see a therapist upwards to one time a week. An appointment with a therapist is around $385 per appointment. Patients also usually need medication of some sort. Medicine prices can range from $10 to $100 per bottle. Depending on the dosage one needs to take, it could need to be refilled monthly. The price for mental health care is already unaffordable, but is also constantly rising (NAMI). Without help from insurance companies, patients can not access the treatment they need. As actress Carrie Fisher once said, “Without medication I would not be able to function in this world. Medication has made me a good mother, a good friend, a good daughter” (“Carrie”). Without the necessary treatment, people find other ways to rid themselves of their mental illness. This includes risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, and suicidal attempts.

In conclusion, mental illnesses deserve more recognition and better treatment. Millions of people suffer from a mental illness of some sort. Due to most mental illnesses being fairly similar, and hard to diagnose, patients are often misdiagnosed, leading to other problems down the road. With the proper education and research, doctors could have a better understanding of mental illnesses.  As if suffering from a mental illness is not hard enough, insurance companies do not always cover the costs of the patient’s needs including therapy and medication. This causes patients to use alternative methods of therapy including drugs, alcohol and sex. With the stigma surrounding mental illness, people admitting to their mental illness and seeking the help they need can be very difficult. This elongates a person’s suffering. The stigma around mental illness needs to be erased so those suffering can get the help they need.

Works Cited

“Carrie Fisher Quotes.” BrainyQuote, BrainyQuote, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/c/carrie_fisher.html.

Cohn, Jonathan. “The Long and Winding Road of Mental Illness Stigma.” Milbank Memorial Fund, N.p., 03 Sept. 2015, https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/articles/the-long-and-winding-road-of-mental-illness-stigma/.

Friedman, Michael. “The Stigma of Mental Illness Is Making Us Sicker.” Psychology Today, N.p., 13 May 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brick-brick/201405/the-stigma-mental-illness-is-making-us-sicker.

Henderson, Roger. “Antipsychotics Drugs .” Patient, Patient Platform Limited, 23 June 2015, https://patient.info/health/antipsychotic-medicines.

Hickey, Phil. “Schizophrenia Is Not a Real Disease.” Behaviorism and Mental Health, N.p., 21 Jan. 2010, http://behaviorismandmentalhealth.com/2010/01/21/schizophrenia-is-not-an-illness/.

Magaard, Julia Louis, et al. “What Do Patients Think about the Cause of Their Mental Disorder? A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Causal Beliefs of Mental Disorder in Inpatients in Psychosomatic Rehabilitation.” EBSCOhost, PLOS one, 5 Jan. 2017, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0169387

“NAMI.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Understanding-Health-Insurance.

“No One Is Saying Depression Isn’t Real, but It’s Not a Biological Brain Malfunction or ‘Disease’.” CCHR International. CCHR International, 21 Feb. 2014, https://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-disorders/behaviors-are-not-diseases/.

“Serotonin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 Mar. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin.

Szasz, Thomas. “From Ideas on Liberty.” The Thomas S. Szasz M.D Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsibility. N.p., 23 May 2007. http://www.szasz.com/usatoday.html

Watters, Ethan. “The Americanization of Mental Illness.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Jan. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html.

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