The idea of treating mental illness just like physical ailments has always been a touchy subject. It’s arguably one of the reasons why treatment for disorders has proved complicated. Unlike physical injuries or illnesses, mental illness is somewhat taken less seriously, or approached with scepticism. Although this is mainly from family and friends, the notion can find itself where it shouldn’t be – within the health sector, where 1 in 5 adults in the USA suffering from mental conditions sometimes seek help.

While many might say that there’s a vast difference between physical and mental illness, there is growing research proving that both should be taken as seriously as the other. Here are a few insights, which prove that we should start treating mental illness just like physical illnesses.

It’s not all in their mind

One common misconception is that people who suffer from disorders are making it up, or aren’t trying hard enough to get better. However, this is further from the truth. Mental illness may be an indication of something gone wrong with the mind, but it goes further than that. In fact, mental disorders also affect cognitive and neurological brain functions.

Basically the brain uses up 20% of both the human body’s oxygen and energy. This is due to chemical reactions that affect everything from our thoughts and actions to even (voluntary and involuntary) beavhiors. When someone experiences mental illness, the brain undergoes neurochemical changes. In turn, one or more reactions are impacted negatively, affecting a person’s emotions, perception, behavior and even immune system.

In short, if chemicals aren’t functioning the way their biologically designed to, you experience that which is considered out of the norm physically and mentally. This can include extreme cases of hallucinations, or a heightened sense of fear for no apparent external reason, as well as the inability to breathe for some.

How physical illness affects the body

When the body is attacked by a common cold, or a deadly virus, the body’s immune system experiences some form of atrophy as it tries to fight off the sickness, or is destroyed by it.  As a result, there are complications in even the most basic of human functions. For example, someone with influenza may have trouble breathing which can then affect concentration and energy.

In fact, some physical illnesses can impact neurochemical brain functions as well. This is because the brain gets help from the rest of the body (20% oxygen and 20% energy) to function accordingly, or is attacked by the illness directly. A good example is an undetected tapeworm, which can burrow its way from the intestines to the brain, leaving behind bacteria and destroying physical tissue.

Making the connection

Physical illnesses are treated more seriously, although they affect some of the same human functions as mental disorders do. What’s more, mental illnesses can prove more debilitating than physical illnesses.

Your immune system, for instance, can be greatly lowered by major depressive disorder than it is by a cold. Yet, a cold receives more medical attention and consideration. That in itself is highly problematic, as a weakened immune system leaves the body vulnerable to physical illnesses.

The solution

Everything that has been mentioned in this passage relates to mental illnesses that aren’t as severe as others. You still have to consider that there are those that have a deeper biological impact such as bipolar, schizophrenia and ADHD. Even these still receive very little attention, compared to influenza, or aren’t covered by health insurers the same way.

Additionally, we should realise that these conditions happen to real people who are not only physically and emotionally impacted by the condition, but by the reactions they receive from others. As someone who suffers from mental illness, you’re both fearful of your mind and those around you (especially those who don’t take the condition seriously), which can make seeking medical care unlikely.

While social stigma around mental illness needs to change, adequate and tailored health care needs to take center stage. According to a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, clinicians must start providing appropriate care within an attributional model that makes sense to the person receiving the care.

In other words, depending on the condition, appropriate consideration and care must be provided. Just as someone would receive antibiotics for a bacterial infection or hospitalised for a deadly virus, a mentally ill person must receive (tailored) medication and/or therapy when they seek it.

  1. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
  2. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
  3. Nami