Recently(ish), someone told me that there was not really a need for further mental health awareness efforts, that all the information is out there, and it is the responsibility of everyone to do the research that leads them to this information and get the help they need. I disagreed quite vehemently, and still do, because awareness isn't just about putting information out there for those suffering from... say... Postpartum Depression, it's also about fighting the myths and stigmas that are out there, about trying to help people who perpetuate fallacies like "It's all in your head" or "you can pray it away" realize how wrong that line of thinking is and how much harm such attitudes can do.
The other day, while I was sitting on Facebook, I happened to look over at my ticker and see that a friend of mine had commented about Zoloft and breastfeeding. I went to look at the status and shared a little bit about my personal experiences. All was fine and dandy until someone posted this little gem.
The more I looked at this comment, though, the more frustrated I got, and the more thoughts I had running through my head. I finally decided that I might be better off using it as the foundation for a series and focus each post on one particular element. My first series, yay!
What I want to address in this post is the use of the phrase "this so-call disease". (typo is left because that's how it was typed in the original comment). Anytime someone uses this phrase (or one like it) it gives a tone of "It's not a REAL disease, it's all just in your head." which, of course, is not true. Diagnoses don't get put in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition) just because someone decided to throw a bad thought process in there.
Mental health illnesses such as Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Psychosis, Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and so many others exist. They aren't made up. They are truly illnesses just as much as cancer and diabetes are. They aren't pretend illnesses that the pharmaceutical industry decided to invent so that they could sell even more drugs and make more money (yes, I have been told this before, and I rolled my eyes as hard as I hope you are now). Mental illnesses aren't something that can be prayed away. Changing how you think doesn't make it go away. Ignoring it doesn't make it disappear. Believe me, I tried. Many other people have tried. Usually, the only thing that ignoring it accomplishes (in my personal experience) is to exacerbate the symptoms.
Phrases such as "so-called disease" are born of ignorance and a lack of education. Unfortunately, not only does this type of nonsense spread the ignorance of the individual with verbal diarrhea, it adds to the harmful stigmas that make it harder for people to reach out for help. I can not tell you how much damage it does to hear things like "this so-called disease". Of course it's bad news if you're already struggling, but even if you're not it builds a flawed and cracked foundation that could crumble to pieces if the wrong burden is added.
If you think of a mental illness as a "so-called disease", do yourself and everyone out there (especially those struggling with a mental illness) a favor and drop it from your vocabulary. Don't even THINK the phrase again. Adjust your thinking and accept that just because you can't necessarily see outward physical symptoms doesn't mean someone isn't struggling from a legitimate illness. Would you call cancer, diabetes, influenza, polio, tetanus, HIV, etc. a "so-called disease"? Then don't insult and put down mental illnesses and those suffering from them (or those who have survived) by insinuating (or outright saying) that it's not a real illness. It's real. I've lived it. I came frighteningly close to not living through it. Don't sit there and try to tell me I imagined it.