Well, I think I have covered most of the basics regarding mental illness, or at least the ideas I had right off the top of my head. But, I haven’t covered this next topic yet, so here we go with number nine:
9) Get educated about your illness. This kind of goes along with the acceptance issue, but is a little different. I’d say one of the first things you should do when you are feeling well enough or if you are a friend or relative of someone with a mental illnes, when you have time…anyway, the first thing you should do is start to educate yourself about mental illness and specifically YOUR illness.
Looking back it is hard to believe that there was a time when I didn’t know anything about mental illness, but way back when, I was just like 90% of the population. I didn’t even know what neurons or dopamine receptors were! And if you don’t, don’t worry, because most people have no idea. The more educated you are about the brain and how things work, the more you will realize that psychiatry is not junk science and that you can be helped by medications and therapy. I also think that the more you know about the brain, psychology and psychiatry, the more hopeful you’ll end up being.
Part of getting to know about psychiatry is hearing the history of the field, and you can look at it two ways: you can say that psychiatry is a bunch of nonsense because it is based on a lot of really crazy and bad ideas, or you can realize that psychiatry has come a long way JUST LIKE REGULAR MEDICINE and just be happy that you don’t live in the recent past. I know that psychiatry has a past with things like eugenics and lobotomies and all sorts of horrific things, but you need to realize that it wasn’t too long ago that they leeched people in hospitals and didn’t have anesthetics or vaccines available. However, psychiatry and medicine in general have been radically changed by scientific discoveries of the last century and we should be grateful that we live in a time when there actually is hope for people with mental illnesses. That hope DOES NOT reside anywhere near Scientology or other bogus healing ways.
One way to learn things is by going online of course, but you should also look into some books. I should provide a list here sometime…I’ll put it on my list of To Do’s! If you don’t feel like taking any college classes in psychology, one thing you can do is either check out a psychology textbook from your library or buy one online. I know they are generally very expensive, like $100, but you might be able to get a really good deal at Abebooks.com or on eBay where people are selling used textbooks. If you are at all interested in the subject, you will probably find a textbook to be fascinating reading. Just remember if you are a beginner to get something that is at the introductory level. Some books go heavily into the science behind everything and it can be daunting at first especially if you are new to the subject area.
I actually got interested in psychology, because of my illness and then I ended up majoring in it in college! I am also thinking about pursuing graduate studies in psychology, but I haven’t decided yet. Anyway, it is a really fascinating field with tons of areas of interest. If you have a mental illness, you might be interested in the area of psychopathology the most. That is the area where they talk about all of the diseases. You also might want to look into developmental psychopathology which is essentially mental illness problems across the lifespan.
My one word of warning about all this is: take everything with a grain of salt. I have read a lot of textbooks and other books that make people with mental illness out to be beyond help when they really are not. The books sometimes give a slanted view and make it seem like no one ever gets better or that people with mental illness are completely impaired. This really is not the case. I have actually even had psychology professors who shared this same dismal view, especially as it related to schizophrenic people, and one teacher was utterly shocked by my ability to perform and participate in school. So, just know that there is stigma out there, but by educating yourself and doing the best you can, you can bust the stigma if you want to. It is just stigma and it has little basis in reality, so go for it!
Even if you aren’t going to take your meds (bad idea) and if you aren’t going to see a therapist (bad idea), the least you can do is find out more information about your illness. So, surf the internet and read as many books as you can find. Take a course at your community college or 4 year college if you want to too! Or you could take a distance learning course. I know that my university even offers Intro to Psychology courses online through the distance learning program. Here’s the link to the Portland State University Distance Learning page. Right now they have four distance learning psychology classes available and they cover the same material as a regular college course and you can get college credit for them. PSY 200 and 204 are the intro. classes and the other ones are upper division, but you could take those if you wanted to too. Be prepared for sticker shock. The courses are expensive, but not as expensive as a private school. I think 4 quarter credits will run you about $450…that’s one course. Yes, college is expensive.
Anyway, if distance learning is too expensive or not for you, then find area resources that are free. Some health providers provide access to libraries where you can check out books or tapes too. You can always go to your local library and if they don’t have any books, they may be able to help you borrow a book from another library that has more resources. Whatever you do, find out the facts and don’t listen to a lot of nonsense that is spewed by the anti-psychiatry crowd. If you want to keep one foot in that door, that is okay. It is ALWAYS good to be skeptical, but when rhetoric and conspiracies keep you from knowing how you can be helped, it is time to leave that boat at the dock.
So, get educated. It won’t hurt you and it will help you understand what is going on!