Wednesday, 8 October 2014

It's ALL in the HEAD

Whenever confronted with a person with a mental disorder, the general reaction is : It's all in his/her head.

True. It is in the head because an organ vital for a human being's existence, The Brain, resides inside one's head. The more subtle and unseen Mind too resides in the head. Hence, "mental" disorder. Hence, it's in the head.

But is it All in the head? No, absolutely not. There are various factors contributing to a mental disorder. Broadly split, they can be bundled as Nature factors and Nurture factors. Nature factors are those which are inherent to the individual, and not dependent on the environment. Like genetics, heredity, severe trauma to the brain by means of injury. However, Nature factors, mostly, only predispose an individual to be a likely candidate for a mental disorder. They cannot cause or create a mental disorder, even a chemical imbalance induced one.

This brings us to the more important of the two factors: Nurture. Nurture is a very wide term used to club together factors dependent on the individual's environment. Upbringing, early childhood experiences, treatment by elders and peers, environmental stressors, traumatic experiences, sexual abuse, physical and/or mental abuse, frustration in reaching one's life goals; the list can go on interminably.

Whether a person will develop a mental disorder depends on the interplay of Nature factors and Nurture factors. Again, broadly speaking, if both Nature and Nurture factors are pathogenic, a person may develop a mental disorder. The changes in a person's mental outlook and behaviour are initially classified as a "Disorder" only. Even DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association) classification uses the term "Disorder". However, if the disorder does not correct itself soon enough, either by itself or after intervention by Psychiatric professionals, then long term treatment options make it an illness. Whatever the terminology, even a mental disorder is as serious an illness as any other physical illness. It is as debilitating, as disabling. The only difference is that there are no fevers, no rashes, no broken bones, no surgery. Hence, it is invisible for the most part to people, other than those whose mind and self-esteem the disorder erodes everyday.

We, as society, are all part of the environment (hence, Nurture factors) of each and every other human being on this planet. The physical and mental energies do interact on some level, which will most likely be unknown to us. Decisions taken in a corner of the world may have repercussions on a far removed spot on the earth. We all are individually and collectively responsible for the Nurture factors involved in mental illness, even though the persons suffering may be total strangers to us. For example, the prejudice that Indian society holds against the birth of a girl, may be a major contributing factor in the development of pathological symptoms in a girl child and her parents. So, those who smirk at persons with mental illnesses, please wipe that ugly smile off your face. You are as much of a contributor towards the genesis of the illness by creating an environment in which the illness grows. You also contribute to the severity of the illness by being the architect of an artificial "shame" around mental illness, which deters people from approaching health professionals for help at an early stage, when the disorder is more amenable to cure.

We are not all medical professionals. It may be difficult for us to understand a mental illness without suffering from one ourselves or by watching a dear one suffer. A person with mental illness may keep smiling through the tears. But that does not give you, me or anyone the right to say that it is ALL in the head. It is not. It is as real as cancer. It eats away the mind just as cancer eats away the body. Of course, there is no life without a body. But ask anyone suffering from a severe mental illness: what is life without a mind?

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