I’ve just been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Well, no I haven’t really. But I can understand how it must feel if somebody told me the precise same thing in my face. It’s probably on the same level as being told the person has cancer. Is it possible to do anything for the person or the situation at all? Just as it is for things like cancer, there’s really nothing much that other people can do, but similarly, just as it is with cancer, you can do your best to make things comfortable for the person. However, I haven’t met anybody who’s been diagnosed with a mental illness, and having yet to take Abnormal Psychology, have only a beginning Psychology student’s familiarity with them. What I do know is that mental illness occurs in degrees. There’re mild as well as severe cases of any mental illness. Think of it as the derangements found in World of Darkness. There’s the preliminary form followed by the severe form, and when one reads the descriptions of some of the preliminary forms, we may find that they aren’t so scary as the media makes them out to be. In fact, we may inadvertently behave like some of these derangements at times (or is it just me?).
In any case, mental illness is really a very broad umbrella, just as “physical illness” can be used to describe anything from fevers to heart attacks to diabetes. As the article recommended, you should read up on the specifics of the other party’s condition before jumping to conclusions that he’s schizophrenic and will attack you at the next moment. The thing about most mental illnesses is that sufferers are more at risk of harming themselves than others, and truly violent and aggressive people are at a minority.
Is it easy to tell if someone has a mental condition? I’m not sure, because any guesses I’ve made have never been verified. The definitions of most mental illnesses include a clause that symptoms have to last for a certain period of time, usually 6 months. 6 months is a long time, but what it represents is the idea of permanence. Someone with a mental illness must demonstrate symptoms quite continuously and persistently, such that they become “difficult to miss” to an extent. If you’ve a friend whom at times you think is simply crazy, but at most other times is only your average friend, chances are you’re abusing the term.
Unlike physical illnesses, the detection of mental illnesses isn’t foolproof. I concede that sometimes physical illnesses are also not foolproof, but there’re conclusive scientific proof at least that the body isn’t functioning as it should be. In the past, mental illnesses could only be detected by means of psychiatric scales and assessments by qualified psychiatrists, but with the help of brain scanning technology, it becomes slightly more reliable. However, psychology is ultimately a study of human thought and behaviour, and human thought and behaviour are both intangible concepts. We haven’t been able to map all the different parts of the brain to specific neurological and behavioural processes yet, which means we don’t know which parts of the brain are responsible for conditions such as multiple personalities disorder, for instance. MRI scans only tell half the story.
This is a pretty general entry on mental illnesses in general, but abnormal psychology is as always a flourishing branch of psychology (though its popularity seems to have waned a little in recent years). Most of the time, if you’re worrying that you’ve a mental disorder, chances are you don’t, and you’re just diagnosed with the problem of thinking-too-much!