It’s rare that we hear about mental illnesses from the other side of the rational fence, but it’s happening more and more frequently these days as experts and agencies who treat people with mental illnesses try to erase the harsh social stigma associated with it.
I remember when psychiatric experts first announced that depression, postpartum depression among them, was a mental disorder and that people suffering such symptoms ought to be treated medically. A child at the time, I remember the scorn of the adults around me at this new designation.
A few days ago, the NY Times wrote an article on what it is like living with schizophrenia, focussing on the personal experience of Joe Holt, a man with schizophrenia who has managed to live a fulfilling, giving life in spite of his diagnosis.
It’s worth reading, if only for the words of his wife, who is one of the people Mr. Holt relies on the most for support. (This is pretty amazing, as Mr. Holt acknowledges, because people with schizophrenia can be very paranoid and hear voices of loved ones saying very negative things to them). Mrs. Holt’s stance throughout the years of their marriage has been that ”…mental illness [is not] an adequate excuse to shirk responsibilities.”
That may be something that our society needs to acknowledge, to remember, too. People with mental disorders may not be 100% culpable in their actions, but they are still responsible. Perhaps that is what we need to remove the stigma associated with mental disorders, because for so long, it has been an excuse to absolve individuals of responsibility (think of the plea of mentally insane in a criminal case). Adults who are mentally ill are still adults. They will have to struggle and work harder to lead a satisfying life, but everyone has problems that he or she has to handle. It’s a part of life. Allowances ought to be made for the mentally ill, but perhaps, it’s still important to give them responsibilities and adults as contributing members of our society. After all, if individuals with diagnosed mental disorders ranging from autism to ADHD to Asperger’s Syndrome to even schizophrenia can lead normal lives or challenging lives above the norm, then why can’t we expect others with mental disorders to do the same?