There are two kinds of people in this world. People who consider mental illness like the serious concern it is, and the people/a**holes who ridicule it and question the faith of the person suffering from it. Excuse the harshness, but with regard to the talk of mental illness recently, I can safely say that 65% of the opinions and comments are from the kind of people who fall under the latter of the two.
Mental illness is any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves and relates to others and to his/her surroundings. Although the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and are different depending on the type of mental illness, a person with an untreated mental illness often is unable to cope with life’s daily routines and demands. Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors, NOT due to personal weakness, a character defect, lack of faith, or black-magic, and recovery from a mental illness is NOT simply a matter of will, self-discipline and a couple of prayers. I could keep on repeating this like a prayer, but will the critical Maldivians ever gain an understanding?
Recently a 15 year old girl has reportedly committed suicide by hanging herself from a fan. This awakened the “holier than thou” crowd in our society, and they associated this act of hers to her lack of faith. Yesterday a man has suffered serious injuries after jumping from a building in Male’ in an apparent suicide attempt whilst spectators were having a festive time enjoying the “show.” This is the state of our community today.
I am certain that I have a fair amount of faith, yet I, myself, suffered from mild depression twice. This resulted in mood-swings, changes in personality and social withdrawal. The first time I got out of it was with a lot of pleasantry and support from a bunch of friends. Even if I am not in constant contact with most of them now, with one missing and nowhere to be found yet, I would forever be grateful to them for providing me with the comfort I needed back then. The second time was a tad bit severe than the first, so I increased my level of faith a notch higher than it was before AND turned to my family and friends for support. I did ponder on seeking professional help but later on I did not get to it as my ill condition kept wearing off, which I believe was due to prayers and encouragement from fellow companions. But do you know what the real challenge was, during the two periods I put up with depression? Being told that it was due to my lack of faith, from one of the people closest to me. Being told that if I prayed a bit more, my mental illness would “magically” disappear. Being told to stop moping around and to cheer up, just like that. Explaining my mental condition to that person further added up to my stress and became another battle I had to overcome.
My point? Since mine wasn’t severe and my symptoms were well-controlled, by the mercy of God, I was able to overcome it by seeking solace from prayers and companions, both working hand in hand. Had I isolated myself and kept on praying 24/7, I would not have been able to overcome it. While prayer made me feel better spiritually, the consolation I got from friends and family made me feel better mentally.
So that’s how I coped and overcame. And that is how I will cope and overcome, if, God forbid, I face a similar situation again. My illness was MILD. But there are people out there, suffering and struggling to function in ordinary life due to severe mental disorders. Even if the signs and symptoms vary widely between specific disorders, they are all fighting the same battle and they all deserve treatment. Treatment means all the different ways in which someone with a mental illness can get help to minimise the effects of the illness and promote recovery. This includes psychological therapy, medications and community support programs. However, because there are many different factors contributing to the development of each illness, it can sometimes be difficult to predict how, when, or to what degree someone is going to get better. Just like common cold, flu and fever, mental illness needs to be treated accordingly. Chanting “panadol, panadol, panadol,” as a mantra whenever one gets a fever would not act as a cure. The same way, praying without acquiring proper medication would not help when it comes to mental illness. Hearing the haram-police question their faith and uttering hymns to dispel the assumed evil-spirits would be the last f****** thing they would want to hear.
Unfortunately in Maldives, we lack the ability to provide proper treatment, support systems and EMPATHY to our fellow fighters. Passing on judgement is what most of us do best. Just because one has never undergone a similar situation is no reason to assume that there aren’t people out there who are battling to become the people they once were, back in happier times they have once known.
I would defend anyone with a mental health illness, even if thousands taunt me. I will defend the girl who committed suicide. I will defend the man who attempted to commit suicide. And I will continue to defend all the fighters already fighting, and yet to come. Do you want allegations of suicide or suicide attempts to stop making headlines in this country? Start practicing empathy, or being more empathetic, for a change. One of the greatest ways to improve self-confidence when living with a chronic illness, or when living in a society where this is common, is with education. A person with a mental illness often carries an indelible mark of shame nonetheless and this needs to be changed by breaking the mental health stigma.
Well put, shut up and go educate yourselves.