Recently I discussed mental illness with a good friend.
She compared mental illness to a broken bone, gesturing to her leg. "You can see the broken bone, there's something that needs to be fixed."
But think about internal bleeding. Can you see that? Or lung cancer. Is that outwardly visible? Not until scans or tests are done are many illnesses and injuries visually noticeable. We first notice symptoms, then seek out the cause, and treat from there to alleviate symptoms and prevent further problems.
Why is mental illness any different? As research and technology in this area improve, we see more and more proof that brains affected by mental illness are physically and chemically different from healthy brains. There are plenty of symptoms of mental illness. Why don't we look for them? Notice them? Mental illness, untreated, can lead to complications as bad as the inability to complete basic daily tasks or even death. Why don't we seek out treatment before these are realized?
Why is our first reaction to symptoms of some illnesses to seek treatment, but other symptoms we ignore?
This friend referred to a class on psychology and pointed out the environmental factors of mental illness. "A lot of that's got to do with nature vs. nurture, though."
Let's go back to that broken bone. How did the patient get that way? Tripped on the stairs? Fell off a bike? Dropped a piece of furniture? Without preexisting conditions, bones don't spontaneously break. Some sort of environmental factor -- the stairs, the bike, the furniture, gravity -- plays a part. The same is true of the common cold, caused by germs in the environment. Or the stomach flu. Or a sprained wrist.
If we ruled out any illness or injury caused by environmental factors, I doubt we'd have many patients left who qualify for treatment.
I think a lot of the stigma and obstacles to treatment that individuals with mental illness face today have less to do with a lack of resources or information, and more to do with a lack of general awareness and knowledge. Patients with mental illness might find their struggle to be much easier if the society and world around them would just change its outlook on their condition.