There are many inequalities, which simply have to be accepted. Inequalities of height, strength, natural ability and so on are outside human control.
There are other inequalities, which can be lessened through education and action. One such inequality is the difference in attitude world-wide to people suffering from mental illnesses or disabilities compared with those enduring physical illnesses or disabilities.
Physical problems are mostly visible (although deafness is not). Mental health problems are not immediately obvious. This difference may be part of the reason for the difference in attitudes, both from people in general and from healthcare providers, to patients suffering from mental ill-health compared with those suffering from physical problems.
The association of mental health problems with madness/craziness does not help. While some mentally ill people may do crazy and even violent or dangerous things, the majority do not.
Earlier this year Manchester Airport, UK was brought to a standstill by a passenger on an international flight, who was considered to pose a risk to that flight. The following day it was announced that he had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. While it is more than likely that this was the correct action, this sort of publicity does nothing to help the majority of mentally ill people, who are no threat to anyone.
There is very little publicity for ordinary people, who suddenly find that they are unable to do everyday tasks due to such conditions as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Other mental health problems include obsessive compulsive disorder and all kinds of phobias, panic attacks, eating disorders and addictions to various substances.
Even in countries in North America and Europe sufferers from these conditions tend to be neglected in favour of those with physical problems, where the treatment and length of time to recover are more predictable. From what I have read, in many other parts of the world the stigma associated with mental illness makes life far worse for sufferers.
Mental health and emotional problems affect different people in different ways. The available treatments include talking therapies and drugs. It is often easier to prescribe a drug and leave the patient to administer it (perhaps by taking tablets for months or years) than to find the resources for the talking therapies, which may help to address the cause of the problem or investigate coping strategies and help the patient lead a normal life. Treating the symptoms, without dealing with the underlying problem is like wallpapering over the cracks. Some treatments are not proven to be effective and have irreversible results. One such treatment is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – also known as electric shock treatment. This is used to treat patients with depression, who may not be in a fit state to know what they are consenting to. I wonder how many of the people prescribing it would agree to having it themselves or for their nearest and dearest. There is a campaign to have it banned.
It is very important to treat people rather than symptoms.
When families are unable to manage a mentally-ill person at home, the person may be admitted to hospital. For anyone finding themselves in a psychiatric ward for the first time, this may be frightening and confusing.
One problem is that they might believe that as they are diagnosed as crazy, they have no hope of living outside hospital again. This will only make their illness worse.
It is important that everyone is taught about mental health issues and how to treat people affected by them. Everyone should know that people who have suffered mental illness can lead “normal” productive lives.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about mental illness. In the UK the Time to Change campaign is doing a wonderful job raising awareness of the issues. Sufferers of mental ill-health and the general public are being encouraged to talk about these issues. Greater understanding should lead to earlier support before the illness would cause admission to hospital. People are also being encouraged not to ignore their friends at times of mental infirmity. It may not be much fun to be in the company of a depressed friend, but your friendship would mean a lot.
There is also a campaign to make mental health a core subject in the National Curriculum in the United Kingdom. Children and young people may be affected by mental illness and it is important that everybody is taught to look for the signs and to give support where it is needed.
People with physical disabilities campaigned years ago. They used the slogan, “Does he take sugar?” to remind people that most disabled people can answer for themselves.
An artist, who decided to explain about her bipolar disorder through art, was featured by the BBC.
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