For part II, I want to address some misconceptions about mental health. While I am glad that mental health has been talked about more in the last few years there also comes a negative with that. Every time you turn around someone is claiming to have ADHD, depression, or anxiety, saying their child has ADHD, or their child has autism. Don’t get me wrong...these diagnoses are very real and have some serious impacts on a large number of people. However, I think these diagnoses get over used and misused so I want to have a discussion about some of these things.
1. Mental health is not what you see on T.V.
Bipolar Disorder is probably one of the most common diagnoses that are misrepresented on T.V. Bipolar disorder is not when someone goes from being happy one moment to evil the next moment. While Bipolar Disorder can be very unpredictable it typically does not change a person's mood as swiftly as it is portrayed on the screen. Bipolar Disorder is characterized by two different "moods"...that is one thing that is correct. However it is not as simple as happy versus sad or calm versus crazy as many people have been led to believe. There is a manic side to the disorder and there is a depressive side. Basically what happens is a person has a certain period of time (varies) that they are extremely motivated, get a lot of things done, many struggle with overindulgence during this period (spending a lot of money); then they have a period of time (also varies) where they feel no motivation and struggle to accomplish goals. Now, the purpose of this is not for you to go diagnose yourself or your family members. It is simply to bring awareness to the faulty displays that are seen on T.V. and have people using terms incorrectly. Also, as a mental health worker I know that there are several other things that go into BD but this is not a DSM class.
T.V. can be helpful in bringing awareness but, just like with everything else it is not to be used as a singular educational tool. I believe that the portrait of mental health on television has a lot to do with the very negative views that society has about mental health. Now, there have been a few movies and television shows that are good for a blanket view on particular mental illnesses. For instance, Rain Man (one of my favorite movies) gives a good view on autism. Split is a recent movie that displays a man with multiple personalities. Don't even get me started on Bates Motel (love that show). What we must remember is that these movies and shows are also for entertainment purposes so several things are exaggerated for that reason. Not every person with multiple personality disorder is locking girls up in basements, not every person with autism counts at a lightning speed.
2. Mental Illness does not only Impact One Race
On Oct 1, 2017 there a tragic shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. As the news about the shooter was described the words "mental illness" was thrown around several times. Now, I am not saying that the man did not have a mental illness nor am I saying that if he did have a mental illness it could not have been a factor in his actions. Someone on twitter pointed out that the media was so quick to latch onto this idea that he had a mental illness and let that take the forefront rather than him as a person being a murderer. The other part of that was that when a person of color kills anyone whether it is a massacre like this one or a one on one homicide mental illness is never considered.
A couple things to say about this: 1. The media needs to stop using this as a cop out for white criminals. There are plenty of people that suffer with mental illness every single day and do not take out crowds of people. Once again, not saying that mental illness cannot take you there and obviously you have to have some mental health issues to be able to do something of that nature but it cannot be used as an excuse. It's just a cop out to say that there is no way this innocent white man would ever kill this many people if there was not this other thing going on; taking the responsibility of his actions away from him. And if that's the case mental health affects people of all races not just Caucasians. It gives mental health a bad name and makes people associate all mental health diagnoses with psychotic behaviors. 2. If we do not acknowledge mental health in our own community the society is definitely not going to acknowledge it. We are slowly but surely coming around in the African American community when it comes to this, especially as we have more African Americans taking on roles in the mental health field but we still have a LONG way to go. We cannot keep acting as if mental health issues do not exist in the brown communities. I say brown because in my studies I've read and heard testimonials of other minorities that this is consistent in a lot of other cultures as well. It happens to us too and it's okay to get help.
3. Stop with the Over-Diagnosing
There is no way that every child in your classroom has ADHD and Autism. Ijs. This goes for MH professionals. doctors, teachers, and parents alike: look into every possibility before pinning a diagnosis on a child. Just because a student is active does not mean that he has ADHD. It may mean that he needs more time to get energy out at home rather than going from being in school all day to being inside the house all day. It could mean that his diet needs to change. It may be that they are bored and need more challenging work. It could also be that he's just an adolescent boy and has a lot of energy. (Side note: I know that ADHD can impact both boys and girls but boys get pinned with this diagnosis more often.) Like I said above, I am overjoyed that we are acknowledging that these are real issues but it is not the answer for every child that you struggle to control. One of the first things I learned in grad school when we started talking about diagnoses was to rule out all options before diagnosing someone because it could be very detrimental to their future. Because of those reasons I mentioned earlier when people are diagnosed with a disorder and they have all of these negative views about mental illnesses it often takes a toll on them and can make things worse. I've seen a lot of people really attach to that and feel that they can't do anything because of the diagnosis. Some people it is because they just don't want to work but for other people the diagnosis itself is traumatic. Think about a child being traumatized by that early on and it following them into adulthood. I had a client once that reminded people that her son had autism and all of her children had sensory disorders every opportunity that she got. It made me so sad because he and his siblings started using that as an excuse every single time he threw a tantrum or one of them got in trouble. Instead of teaching them tools to overcome the symptoms of his diagnosis she was teaching them how to use it as a crutch and an excuse to get out of things they didn't want to do. Eventually in the adult world especially for a man these things are not going to work and I felt like she was setting him up for failure.
It happens for adults too...everyone seems to have depression and anxiety these days. Depression and anxiety are so much more than sadness and nervousness. Educate yourself- via a professional not via google.
There are so many other fallacies and misconceptions to address and I hope to address more over time but these three are three of the biggest issues in my opinion. My goal for this series is to open dialogue, educate, and inspire. I am not sure right now how many parts there will be in this series but if you have ideas, suggestions, or personal experience that you would like included send an email to email@example.com. I would really love for this to grow into a major conversation.
Thank you for reading and as always comment and share. Like the Notes by Khia facebook page to get updates on the series.