Yesterday, I experienced an interesting moment.
I notified someone, who holds a dear place in my heart, that I will be working with adults who experience severe mental illness next year during my internship. I expected the responses “congratulations” or “that’s awesome”. However, I received those responses and something more: “I hope it doesn’t rub off on you”.
This comment does not stem from ignorance.
The comment stems from a lack of knowledge and fear.
First of all, let me state that this individual did not mean the comment to be demeaning or stigmatizing. Yet, the comment got me thinking about the number of people who may also have a similar belief; the belief that mental illnesses are contagious. This idea is beyond inaccurate.
Honestly, the comment caught me off guard. I did not know whether to be upset, angry, or happy. I was upset at the amount of misunderstanding that people with a mental illness experience daily. I was angry at the stigma that is direct towards me and others who work within the mental healthcare system, in addition to those who receive mental health services. And, simultaneously, I was happy.
I felt an odd level of happiness at the comment, “I hope it doesn’t rub off on you”, because the comment provided me with information. The information I gained from hearing this comment is that there remains a need to inform communities and family members about mental illness. The comment has provided me with an opportunity to educate, as well as advocate.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, 2013) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2012), mental illnesses are conditions that can disturb an individual’s thoughts, feelings, mood, interpersonal skills, and daily functioning. Mental illnesses impact people of all ages, socioeconomic status, race, and religion. Severe mental illnesses include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders [such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)], and borderline personality disorder.
“Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weaknesses,
lack of character, or poor upbringing” (NAMI, 2013).
I can not stress enough: recovery from mental illness is possible. Although there are genetic aspects to mental illnesses, as there is with the development of cancerous cells, mental illnesses are NOT contagious like the cold or flu.
For more information regarding the mental illnesses mentioned above, please visit the resources listed below:
— American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2012). www.psychiatry.org/mental-health.
— Let’s Talk Facts Brochures. (2005). American Psychiatric Association.
— National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2013). www.nami.org
— What is Major Depression. (2013). National Alliance on Mental Illness.