Drawn by early 20th-century commercial cat illustrator Louis Wain near the beginning of his mental illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Can you describe how the mentally ill feel?
This question actually comes up, both in person and as search terms. Despite the difficulty of answering such a general question, I will take a stab at this.
Speaking for any group of people is always problematic. I am an old white guy. So I should be able to tell you how old white guys feel right? Trying to speak for any group is beyond difficult. How old white guys feel would depend on whether that old white guy was a homeless veteran living alone under a bridge or a Wall Street executive who was paid millions for running a company last year that lost billions. I really can’t describe how all old white men might feel about anything.
But I will try to tell you how the mentally ill feel.
It might be easier to describe how the mentally ill do NOT feel, though that begs the question of how they do feel.
The mentally ill don’t feel happy. Occasionally they may feel mania. They may run without stopping and not need to sleep but even then they will probably tell you they are not really happy.
It is hard for positive emotions like happiness, contentment and peace to co-exist with active symptoms of a mental illness.
One reason I feel so sure that I can describe the way the mentally ill feel is that they are so much like those of us who would like to think we are not suffering from a mental illness – not at this moment anyway.
In the course of any one year 25 % of Americans will have symptoms of a mental illness so severe they should be diagnosed. Over half of all Americans will have at least one episode of a mental illness during their life time. So they will feel a lot like the rest of us – only more so.
The rest of the world has similar prevalence’s of mental illness. What you call it may vary from place to place. What symptoms people may exhibit may vary from culture to culture but most any of us can tell when people are not happy and when they are suffering from dis-happiness.
Mostly people with a mental illness feel flooded, overwhelmed with negative emotions. When they are anxious they feel really, really anxious. When they are sad they are down in the bottom of the hole sad. Their depression does not go away when they watch a sitcom. Their night of dark feelings is really, really black.
It would be reassuring to think that somehow the mentally ill are different from the rest of us. If only they somehow have a different temperament or had done something so wrong they deserved their misery. But the truth be told, bad things can happen to good people and we all are at risk to have an experience that overwhelms us.
Sure once they develop mental illness they may act differently from the way they did when they were well. They will smoke more and maybe drink and drug more. They may lose the ability to care for themselves or to show up for work.
But tell the truth, if tomorrow you were to lose your job and your home, if your family and friends turned their back on you – wouldn’t you feel depressed, anxious and like giving up?
So for those of you who wonder how the mentally ill feel, take a look at how you feel when things go wrong and then you will know how you might feel if one day you woke up and discovered you had contracted a mental illness.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com . Thanks to all who read this blog.