A Well World: Mental Illnesses are Brain Disorders

Our society has chosen to distinguish mental health from physical health. It’s easy to understand why, but it also muddles our thinking a bit. After all, mental disorders are the symptoms of an unhealthy brain—a physical organ of the body. By categorizing mental health as a different thing than physical health, we perpetuate misunderstandings on various levels.

For example, there is a huge disparity in medical coverage for mental illnesses verses physical illnesses. There is also a critical lack of psychiatric professionals and facilities.

Another way this dichotomy is harmful is the way we stigmatize mental health issues. Think with me how rarely people talk about a loved one who is being treated for depression, but how quickly they share about someone’s cancer. When a family has a major medical crisis, neighbors and friends will often rally around and offer babysitting, meals and prayers. But when we hear that a co-worker’s spouse is in a psych hospital, our default is often whispers and knowing nods to others in the office.

The truth is, the brain is an organ of the body that, like any other organ, can malfunction or be damaged. Like other organs, when this happens, the person’s behavior is affected. Treatment is necessary, and lives are often impacted in dramatic ways.

Just as we typically are not responsible for the illnesses that beset our bodies, most people living with mental health conditions did not do anything to bring on their illness. There may be a hereditary link, and there are often things a person does to exacerbate their condition (such as self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, which can lead to addictions and other health issues). But for the most part, people dealing with mental health concerns have been ambushed by illnesses in their brains, and if these diseases are severe enough, these individuals suffer lifelong debilitation—compounded by stigma and limited health care.

Our friends at the Well have brain illnesses. Many also have illnesses in other parts of their bodies (see our recent blog). All experience stigma and rejection.

However, our friends at the Well also have a place to fit in, to function at their very best, to rest in a community that cares. Thank you for being a part of this community.


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