Why is there such a taboo against mental health?


NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest non-profit, grassroots mental health education, support, and advocacy group has named May as Mental Health Month with the motto “Silent No More.” With this is mind, my next two posts take a look at mental health.

Don’t we all want well-being? If we get the flu or break an arm or need emergency surgery, we are all about good health.

Like physical well-being, mental health exists on a continuum. Truth be told, we all have our crazy moments, melt downs, irrational fears, and acting-out behavior. For most of us, that behavior is temporary and often the result of a confluence of stressors, life events, and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

For others, it can be a life of hell.

Think of the person who sits with a loaded gun in their hand for hours deciding if this is the night, or the person who is haunted by voices that are loud, conflicting, and demanding.

Consider the person so traumatized by abuse and paralyzed by fears that they are unable to walk out their front door. Or there is the individual locked in complicated grief or an abusive relationship or a love/hate pull with heroin or such damaged self-worth that they are unable to break the cycle without some aid and assistance.

William Styron in his book Invisible Darkness, describes depression as “a howling tempest in the brain.” The World Health Organization (WHO) says in the coming years depression will be the number one global health issue.

Why do we relegate people who need mental health to the bottom of the pile and slough it off as there are just crazy, mad, or dysfunctional?  This seems a distancing mechanism from the pain and fear of what unhinged looks like. Something got them there, be it genetic predispositions, dueling neurochemicals, biological vulnerabilities, addiction, trauma, tragedy, disaster, and/or abuse.

Society, as a whole, can be so competitive, harsh, and judgmental. There is little room for vulnerability and imperfection.

Our neighbors, friends, everyday folks, disadvantaged folks, those returning from war, those isolated and vulnerable are not well and need our help. They cannot get off the mat without a hand. Where is that hand, the funding, and, most importantly, the compassion for those who need it most?

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4 Responses to Why is there such a taboo against mental health?

  1. Adele Ryan McDowell May 28, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Yes, may we all be love!

  2. Adele Ryan McDowell May 28, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Thanks, Susan! This is, indeed, good news.

  3. Susan May 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Timely blog, usa today has a series starting this week called the cost of not caring. It’s about mental health care and the lack of it in our country. I saw the writer featured last night on pbs news hour. It will be a year long series, thank goodness!

  4. Na'ama Yehuda May 23, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    There are probably many complicated answers to this question. One contributing cause may be the religious slant which saw (and some still sees) mental illness as a flaw of moral character, a lesser-ability of faith, a ‘falling off’ of the contentment one is supposed to have if one ‘truly trust in the Lord’–a way of judging the person who is depressed or anxious as lacking faith or valor or commitment to accepting fate and taking it all in stride (think: martyr-like…). In a system that was very much built on righteousness–and a hierarchical righteousness at that–the mentally ill were instant opportunity to view another as being on a rung below oneself, and thus somehow elevated and more righteous, more morally ‘connected’, more of faith.
    Granted, spirituality is a very helpful tool in health–mental and physical–and to have faith and hold hope IS helpful. But it is taken a step further to a judgement when the view is of a ‘wrong’ or a ‘sin’. There are still those who view the mentally ill as lazy, unwilling, and burdening others (read: “moochers who won’t take responsibility for their own lives”).
    The biblical view, if taken from a compassionate viewpoint (as do the compassion-led spiritual practices), would teach one to be empathetic and gentle toward the needy and ill, the downtrodden and lost. But many ‘spiritual leaders’ distorted (and some still do) the view into judging those in need. This way one is not obligated to help or can see oneself as a savior (and thus more righteous) and can expect unending gratitude and looking-up-to from the person they help. And if that person cannot or does not offer that adoration.
    Judgement comes from vanity.
    And people can be quite drawn to being ‘morally vain’ … Sadly, often with religion’s blessing.
    Or with the deceiving ‘god of gold’ blessing–this idol that so many (and often those ho have more) bow to these days, politically and pseudo-religiously. From a place of perceived superiority, they claim that they are righteous and paternally moralistic, but saying that one is ‘for biblical values’ does not make one godly if one only chooses to love those they want and to find cause to hate those they don’t like … or who might ‘cost them money’ or ‘take away profits’ or ‘mess up political agendas’ or ‘party affiliation’…).
    Putting a taboo on mental health is easier than facing the reality that so much of it is man-made, and so much of it can be prevented, addressed, and healed through mutual respect and viewing all human beings as worthy.
    For those who need to feel ‘one up’, this creates a dilemma … How can they maintain a sense of being superior if they accept that: a. they are not, and b. their superiority depends on keeping others down?
    Mother Theresa showed us all – regardless of one’s personal religion — how one can
    be godly and caring and non-judgmental. She embodied the way of true compassion, and actual acceptance of all human beings as children born of spirit.
    If I had to choose someone to look up to, spiritually, she’ll be high on the list. Because she was above fear of the different. Because she was in harmony with love.
    May we all, be love.