Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Being Human"

Struggling with depression or anxiety is often called "being mentally ill".

Why can't we just call it "being human"?

Let me just say that I really do understand why it's called "illness."  Because it's a state of being "not well."  When depression or anxiety affects your mind or life in bad ways, things are not the way they're supposed to be.  And there are times when depression or anxiety stems from a physically-unhealthy mind, from an imbalance of hormones or chemicals that needs medication to make it right, like a genuine physical illness.

And maybe many people who suffer from anxiety or depression appreciate that it's called "mental illness" - it's like giving a condition an official name or medical diagnosis so that it can be understood and dealt with.  Maybe it makes them feel less "irrational" and more hopeful that it can be successfully treated.

But ... I don't know.  Isn't stress and discouragement and sadness and occasional hopelessness part of being human?  Won't we all struggle with it to some degree throughout our lives, shallow at some times but deeply at others?  

Doesn't calling it "mental illness" seem to make it worse - making it seem like a depressed or anxious person is not like "the rest of us," like they have lost control of their mind or lost touch with reality?  Can't you just see the raised eyebrows and hear the hushed, whispered "She's one of those people, the mentally ill," as people subtly nod their heads in the direction of an anxious or depressed person?

I understand there are degrees of depression and anxiety.  And yes, sometimes depression or anxiety can completely paralyze a person, destroying their ability to function and separating them from reality, making it necessary to step in and take drastic steps to help them or to protect them from themselves.  Sometimes there is a chemical imbalance or a genetic history of mental problems.  

And to a degree, I think we can call all that "mental illness."  Their minds are not well and they need help that they cannot give themselves.

But I'm wondering about all the others, about those who struggle with anxiety and depression daily, where it affects their life in many small (or big) negative ways but it's not bad enough to debilitate them or to necessitate emergency intervention.  Those who've had to learn to live with it and to function well with it because it's a constant, unwelcome companion.  Or those who are normally bright and intelligent and capable, but who are going through a bitter season of it, due to terrible circumstances or trials.   

Should all depression and anxiety be lumped under "mentally ill"?  Does it help those dealing with it to be set apart?  To be seen as "abnormal" or as "one of those people"?  To be viewed as someone who is permanently damaged and who needs to be temporarily patched up so that they can limp through life, instead of as someone who is simply going through a hard time and who needs support, compassion, encouragement, and a helping hand, just like the rest of us need at times?  To be given the same label of "mentally ill" that we give delusional paranoid schizophrenics?  Doesn't "mentally ill" make it sound like a depressed or anxious person is more out of touch with reality than they really are?  That they are more of a "risk" than they might be?  

And yes, there are those who are at great risk.  We don't want to treat this lightly.  But do we want to slap the same label on all who are depressed or anxious, regardless of the degree to which they suffer?  Is that fair or accurate?  

Isn't learning to deal with fears, stress, sadness, and discouragement part of being human?  Won't we all go through seasons of this?  Isn't it part of being in a broken world?  Of being a lost, broken person in need of a Savior?  

Wouldn't it help us more to be told that it's normal to struggle with these things at some point and to some degree?  That there's no shame in it?  That it's okay to be broken because there's eternal hope and healing in the Lord?  That we're not "mentally ill" but we are simply human, like the rest of the people out there? 

Would it help more ... or not?  I still don't know. 

I understand that when most people use the term "mentally ill" on their blogs, they are doing it out of compassion, out of a desire to be understanding and helpful.  And I can see the benefits on both sides.  And of course, we don't want to normalize anxiety or depression too much, making it seem like it's an acceptable condition.  Yet I still wonder if "mentally ill" is the best label we can find for those dealing with depression or anxiety. 
I'm just wondering about all these things because depression and anxiety have become so common and because every blog I look at calls it "mental illness."  And maybe you aren't dealing with it now ... but someday, due to terrible trials or tragedies, it might be you falling into the "mentally ill" label. 

And so I want to ask ... what do you all think, especially those who struggle with these things?  Do you appreciate the "mentally ill" label, finding comfort and help in it?  Or does it bother you?  Or if it's not you right now, what if it is in the future?  Would you like the "mentally ill" label?  Do you all have any suggestions for a better way to label it, or some helpful ideas on how to approach it or to help those dealing with it?  Or maybe some ideas about what's "not helpful"?  What's your experience been? 

(For those who are really struggling, please check out this post, "Help for Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Thoughts."  You are not alone!  You are going to be okay and make it through!)  

(reposted from

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