Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Surviving Mental Illness: My Story by Linda Naomi Baron Katz

Table of Contents:

photo of Linda Baron KatzWhen most people think about the mentally ill, they assume that such people are insane or crazy, or perhaps even freaks. However, that is not true. Mental illness is a disease of the human mind, which can disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, daily functioning at work, school, or in activities they once liked. Mental illness also makes it difficult for someone to distinguish between the real and the unreal world. In the real world, people who suffer from mental illness cannot avoid the pain or the pleasure in their life. In the unreal world, these people try to hide their pain and create fantasies or images which they would very much like to be real.

Mental illness is caused by a combination of factors such as heredity, biological reasons, psychological trauma, and environmental elements. With heredity, sometimes mental illness runs in families, passed on from parents to children through their genes. Biologically, some mental illnesses are tied to a chemical imbalance in the brain. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters and affect thoughts, emotional, and behavioral responses, which may cause changes in making rational judgments, moods (being too happy or too sad), and how one functions in everyday life. Some mental illnesses come from psychological trauma suffered as a child, such as emotional or physical abuse, loss of a parent, or neglect. Environmental stresses, such as a death or divorce, changing jobs or schools, or substance abuse issues, can trigger a disorder in a person who may be at risk for developing a mental illness.

In today’s society, most people still put a stigma on those who have a mental illness. What is a stigma? Stigma is a negative judgment or severe disapproval of a person based on characteristics that distinguish them from other people in society. People who do not have a mental illness and do not understand it, can sometimes make bad judgments and think that the mentally ill are not normal. The truth is that people with mental illnesses are normal like everyone else and can lead productive lives, if they are given the chance. Why is there such stigma against those with a mental illness? What do people have to fear? Simply, they fear the unknown. Most people are not educated enough about mental illness because they do not want to understand it, while others do not want to have anything to do with the mentally ill for selfish reasons. This kind of thinking is nothing but a shame in today’s times. The more that people are educated and able to change their way of thinking about mental illness, the better life can be for people with mental illness and those around them.

There are many types of mental illnesses, but the ones that I want to focus on are mood disorders. The three major types of mood disorders are major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Before anyone can seek treatment, one has to admit that they have a problem, and that can be difficult to do. Some fear that they will never be able to work because an employer might not hire them.

Others fear that they will never get married if their mental illness is discovered. These fears result from stigma all over the world. However, if the condition is not treated, some will always be unemployed, be homeless, possibly be incarcerated, or commit suicide.

Today, mental illness is treatable with medication and therapy. There are agencies which assist in recovery by helping individuals find a job, go back to work, establish a support group where they can meet friends, or even date other people who also have a mental illness.

These agencies help people realize they are not alone. In this chapter, I will discuss the three major types of mood disorders and discuss the treatments that are available. I will also go in depth as to how recovery from mental illness is possible and can be achieved.

The most common type of mental illness is major depression. It is a serious medical illness that affects fifteen million Americans or about five to eight percent of the adult population in a given year. It is brought on by a combination of symptoms that can interfere with a person’s ability to work, study, and sleep. Some of these symptoms include persistent sadness, uncontrollable crying, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, loss of appetite, loss of interest, and pleasure in hobbies or activities once enjoyed.

Major depression can also cause people to commit suicide which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Suicide does not have to happen if people can admit to themselves that they have a problem and seek treatment immediately. Even when they are in treatment, suicide can occur, but the risk is much lower for those who do seek treatment. For example, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or home, being incarcerated, or engaging in drug abuse, can all trigger suicide. Suicide victims feel so down with life that they lose hope because no one takes the time to reach out to them. If these victims seek support from agencies that can help them find homes, employment, learn how to cope with life by being around loved ones, and stay on their medications, they can start a better life.

Major depression can be treated by a psychiatrist and/or a therapist. A psychiatrist prescribes medications and a therapist discusses major life problems that result from having the condition. Some medications the psychiatrist will prescribe for depression are Celexa, Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Prozac. These may have some side effects, such as headaches, nausea, dry mouth, and dizziness. These side effects should not make a person stop taking the medication, because doing so could be dangerous. A person could fall into a relapse and experience more symptoms of depression, becoming worse than before.

Having a therapist to talk to about whatever problems someone is facing may help them deal with the depression and also help the way they interact with people, by going from negative to positive behavior. This is why it is so important to have a combination of medication and therapy. Without the two, it can be difficult to treat any type of mental illness.

The second type of mood disorder is known as bipolar or manic depression, which is what I suffer from. I have already described what depression is as well as its symptoms. Mania is a condition in which one’s mood changes from a normal state to an overactive state. Mania often affects your rational thinking, judgment, and social behavior. This can cause serious problems and embarrassment.

In the manic phase, one may feel elated and euphoric, a state described as being “on top of the world.” Some symptoms of mania include restlessness, a decreased need for sleep, talking rapidly, having racing thoughts, experiencing grandiose notions, and increased energy. Sometimes, the manic state progresses to the point where judgment is impaired and contact with reality is lost. This can cause poorly thought out decisions acted on impulsively, such as calling a friend in the middle of the night or going on a shopping spree.

A person can also have psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, such as hearing voices or believing one has special powers. Bipolar disorder can go from extreme highs to low depressed moods. This extreme mood swing can be triggered by psychological, environmental, and genetic factors that I discussed earlier in this chapter. There are different medications that are used in treating bipolar disorder. The most common medication psychiatrists recommend is Lithium. Lithium can stop a manic episode from occurring and prevent further manic depressive episodes from coming back. However, this medication has to be carefully monitored and is not for everyone (especially if one has a thyroid or kidney problem).

The other major medicines that treat bipolar disorder are known as anticonvulsants, such as Tegretol, Depakote, and Lamictal. These medicines can help stabilize one’s mood and, just like Lithium, can stop further episodes from occurring again. Medicines that can control certain psychotic symptoms during a manic depression like hallucinations are known as antipsychotics. Schizophrenics also use antipsychotics to treat their symptoms.

With bipolar disorder, medications may not be enough. Just as in major depression, getting therapy and attending support groups may help relieve some problems in a person’s life and help understand why these symptoms appear. Therefore, it is very important to seek help.

The third major mood disorder, which affects one percent of Americans, is schizophrenia. This is a serious brain disorder that distorts the way a person thinks, acts, perceives reality, and relates to others. People with schizophrenia often have problems functioning in society, at work, at school, and in relationships. Schizophrenia is a psychosis, a type of mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. As I explained earlier with bipolar disorder, individuals can develop psychotic symptoms as well. This can be confusing and some people can be misdiagnosed. However, with an illness like schizophrenia, it is so much more than hearing voices or believing in things that are not real. For instance, people may not
make sense when they talk, and may have difficulty holding a job or caring for themselves.

Although treatments are available, schizophrenia will remain with sufferers all their lives, and some symptoms may never go away. For example, some people may repeat certain motions over and over again, and in extreme cases, some may be catatonic. This occurs when individuals are in a state of immobility and cannot respond to a simple question. As with bipolar disorder, those with schizophrenia have difficulty making decisions because their thoughts are not rganized. Schizophrenics can also suffer from depression. They often feel isolated from the rest of the world and cannot find pleasure in everyday life.

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  1. Thank you, Linda, for writing this book. Only the view from the inside can properly describe what it is truly like to face the barriers from mental illness. Educating the public is key in fighting stigmas and your work here is doing exactly that.

  2. Interesting subject.

  3. I also want to thank you for writing and publishing this book. The more literature we have out there about mental illness, the more opportunity people have to see that mental illness is not what Hollywood and the Media make it out to be.

    "Simply, they fear the unknown" <--AGREED!

    Having said that, here are a few grammatical errors I found. I admit I regrettably did not have enough time to read the whole thing.

    Para. 1
    "they assume that such people" (take out word "that")

    "However, that is not true." (take out word "that", replace with "it")

    Para. 3
    "on those who have a mental illness" (reword to take out "have". Perhaps "on those fighting mental illness)

    Take out the comma in sentence 4.

    "and think that the mentall ill" (take out word "that")

    "What do people have to fear" = "What do people fear?"

    "while others do not want to have anything to do" = "while others want nothing to do"

    "The more that people" = "The more people are educated"

    Overall the only errors I found were the overuse of "that" and "have". I hope these help! :)

  4. yeah, it helps to see it out there.

  5. My brother has schizophrenia. It is hard for him and our friends don't understand what is going on so they're afraid.