#MentalIllness: No one can ‘choose’ to be mentally ill, and it has no regard for social status, tribe

by Rachel Ogbu

There is no simple answer to the question: what causes mental illness as there are lots of reasons why someone might develop it.

They might inherit it from their family, it might be because of their lifestyle or it might be because of things that have happened to them in the past.

Usually it is a combination of all of these and it can happen to anyone. Ted Chabasinski was only six years old when they began “treating” him with electric shock in the 40s; apparently he had inherited a mental condition from his mother but little has changed since then when in comes to treatment especially in third world and developing countries.

Without support and treatment, mental health problems can have a serious effect on the individual and those around.

It has also been found that people who have suffered head injuries can experience changes to their personality, and in some cases may begin to experience schizophrenia and psychotic type symptoms. Diseases such as dementia generally develop in old age, whereas eating disorders are more common in young people with the craze for the size zero promoted in the media and fashion industry.

If something goes wrong during pregnancy, it can have effect on how the baby’s brain develops. For example if a mother is taking drugs while she is pregnant, or if she gets a virus (like the flu).  There have been reports that suggest vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as Vitamin D, zinc and certain fatty acids may also be related to our mental health.

For many people with mental health problems, it is not a single factor or type of factor that has led to the development of their problems. It is often the case that a series of events have occurred, that have eventually triggered mental illness.

Our living environment

The physical environment where we live can be very stressful, particularly when there are problems with neighbours, or if there are high crime rates and other such issues.

Our working environment

Whether you enjoy your work, or feel you are under too much pressure, are unable to find employment or hold down a job, can all put pressure on your mental well-being.

Families and Friends

When we face difficult times our support networks become very important – those who do not have close friends or families, or those who do not live near the people who support them may find it increasingly difficult to cope alone.

How and when to relax

All these kinds of problems will increase the amount of stress people are under, and can cause depression and anxiety especially in situations where people don’t have a time or a place to relax.

Psychological factors

Your psychological state can influence your mental and emotional state, particularly if you are coping with traumatic and abusive past or current experiences. Significant life events, like bereavement, divorce or if you have self-destructive thought patterns and perceptions, can impact on your mental health.

For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and in more extreme cases Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID – in the past referred to as multiple personality disorder) are all mental health conditions that are commonly found in people who have been abused. “The most important thing in a person’s recovery process is to know that someone cares for you, someone outside yourself, and that you can care for yourself and that you can love yourself and get over those demons that haunt us all, that drive us crazy. You have to get up with some love in your heart and you have to be able to know that you can do something that you love.” Joe a mental patient in recovery said.

Grace’s story:

When I was 12, I started getting overwhelming feelings which I didn’t know how to deal with and I didn’t tell anyone and stopped going to school. Lots of arguments would happen between me and my mum because I couldn’t say what was happening to me. I remember getting really upset and the next thing I knew I was running scissors up my arms and it felt amazing!!

…Eventually I gave in on my own, I don’t know why. I’m now 23 I haven’t self-harmed in years but sometimes when I’m really down, if my mum’s bipolar disorder is too much to handle, it does cross my mind. I’m a normal young woman and no one should say that self-harming is attention seeking, it’s a battle everyday. I have never told others this chapter of my life, but I hope this helps you – there is more help out their now so try and access help if you are feeling how I did.

Michael developed an OCD after the death of his brother’s death and the trauma was too much to handle. When the bullying really started. Kids would call me all sorts of names and would tease me about the colour of my skin. The teachers didn’t seem to notice or didn’t care. It completely tore me apart. Even kids who said they were my friends would join in the bullying when it started. I just felt so alone. I wanted to be part of something so badly that I got involved in a gang.

Jack’s story:

My name is Jack, and I am writing about what it is like to have ADHD and what it does to my life.

In the morning I am hyper. I have to take tablets. I don’t like to take them, but I have to. I know what they are for and they make me better and help me think more.

I wish people would understand how I feel and go on. Sometimes I go on silly but I do not mean to do it. I get mad sometimes for no reason and can’t control it but I am learning to control my illness. I got kicked out of school for going mad when the teacher told me to do something I did not want to do. Now I go to a school that can help me with my ADHD and I like school now.

People do not know that I have ADHD, but they should know more about it so they then can understand that my brain does not work like everyone else’s.

I think there should be a group where people with special needs get together and talk about how they feel and so we know it is not just me with special needs.

Some common early signs of a mental health problem are:

  • Losing interest in activities and tasks that were previously enjoyed.
  • Poor performance at work.
  • Mood swings that are very extreme or fast and out of character for you.
  • Self-harming behaviour, such as cutting yourself.
  • Changes in eating habits and/or appetite: over-eating, bingeing, not eating.
  • Loss of, or increase in, sexual desire.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Increased anxiety, looking or feeling ‘jumpy’ or agitated, sometimes including panic attacks.
  • Feeling tired and lacking energy.
  • Isolating yourself, socialising less; spending too much time in bed.
  • Wanting to go out a lot more, needing very little sleep, feeling highly energetic, creative and sociable, making new friends rapidly, trusting strangers or spending excessively – this may signal that you are becoming ‘high’.
  • Hearing and seeing things that others don’t.
  • Other differences in perception; for example, mistakenly believing that someone is trying to harm you, is laughing at you, or trying to take over your body.

All of these signs can vary in severity. Often they can be relatively minor, or pass quickly. However, if they are particularly severe or distressing, or continue for more than a short while, you may want to seek support, open up and talk to a professional about it.


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