June 14, 2024


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Mental Illness – A Disorder of Perception

5 min read

Do you think the world is going crazy or going mad? If you do, then you are not the only one who thinks this way. Most people feel they are living in a world of confusion and chaos. If you look around you, that is the reality you will see. But what you see is the reflection of the individual’s mind.

You do not realise that when we are born, it is this world of chaos and confusion with distorted perceptions we are born into. No matter which culture or society you are born in, you will grow up thinking in the same way as the people around you with the beliefs and traditions of your society. The environment around you conditions you. So right from the word go no matter in which culture you grow up in, you will have to admit your perceptions of reality will be distorted. Therefore, to assume that we are all somehow normal and sane would be highly presumptuous.

In the medical profession, we recognise you as a normal person because you behave normally and do not disturb people around as you fit in with a pattern of behaviour which the majority considers acceptable. But if you were to act in a way that will cause harm to yourself or others around you, you will be labelled and treated for some mental illness. They will classify and categorise you from the list they have. They will label you as suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD etc. You will be counselled and given appropriate medical treatment. Like most people, you will think that at last the doctors have found something wrong with you and you are receiving treatment for your condition that will cure you.

If you think this way about your mental health, I am afraid you are mistaken. A diagnosis of your mental health problem does not mean we have a cure for you. It is just a label. It is you who can cure yourself by clearing up your perceptions.

Once given a label, many people try to justify or find an excuse for their behaviour. One might say “I am an alcoholic. I could not help myself. Alcohol made me do it.” “I suffer from a mental illness; therefore, I cannot work anymore.” etc. The list goes on.

It means the diagnosis of your mental health problem has done nothing for you. You are no better off before or after the diagnosis. Now if you want to help yourself and cure your mental health problem, you have to develop some insight into your mind. That means you have to start thinking for yourself. You have to start looking at yourself and the world around you.

To test yourself whether you have any insight into your mind after the doctors have labelled you, you have to ask yourself “Was my behaviour acceptable? Do I need to improve?”. If you think there was nothing wrong with your behaviour, then, of course, you have no insight and therefore have no problem with yourself. You will no doubt, become a problem for others.

So, if you have some insight, you should ask this fundamental question to yourself, “Do I have to be this way for the rest of my life? Surely there must be a way to enjoy one’s life no matter what happened in the past”. If you can say “Surely there has to be a way”, then you may be well on the way to full mental health recovery. It means you have some understanding of your problem and will be able to change your perceptions and thus your thinking.

In my mind, I regard mental illness only as a disorder of perception. It is the degree that determines the level at which it becomes a clinical disorder of behaviour and action.

To treat any mental illness, therefore, all we have to do is to straighten out our distorted perceptions. Our perceptions influence our thinking. If you distort them, they lead to crooked thinking. Crooked thinking leads to adverse actions, which, in turn, become the basis for any mental illness.

As one can see the medical treatment is only an adjunct to counselling, psychotherapy etc. which are therapies directed mainly at correcting a patient’s perceptions. So if a person does not have any insight, what other option would one have? One would be stuck with only medical treatment.

Hence if we are to improve the mental health of society, we have to look at ourselves and examine how we can go about correcting our distorted perceptions.

Part of the reason for an increasing incidence of mental illness is the bureaucratic thinking that prevails in our legal system, governments and institutions. In bureaucratic thinking, one always goes by the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. One is not allowed to use reason or common sense. There are no moral or ethical considerations. One is virtually intellectually handicapped. Since there is a set rule applied in managing a problem, we are stuck with it. One is obligated to follow the rules. There is no choice. If one ignores the rules, one will get blamed for whatever happens. And when one follows the rules, it does not mean that the action is necessarily correct.

A perfect example of this would be the present Coronavirus outbreak in China and how it is affecting the economies of nearby countries and the world. It has trapped Governments into a bureaucratic response which creates damned if you do and damned if you don’t type of situation. It is politics for governments to show they are doing something positive to solve a problem. The media, of course, is having a field day making a big deal by dramatising the whole situation and making people even more anxious and terrified.

But let us look at the facts. Coronavirus is a viral illness. Like the Influenza virus, it kills. There is no real cure for any virus illness. The Coronavirus spreads like the flu virus, so the precautions one takes, and the treatment one gets, are the same as if one had a flu infection. The outcome will always depend on how strong one’s immune system is. All virus diseases tend to spread in the community until we develop some immunity against it. Not all people who have tested positive for Coronavirus infection have died. Then again, not all people who had tested positive for the Influenza virus in the past had died either. There have been instances where people were treated for Influenza virus infection on a cruise ship, and yet no quarantine was applied. So ask yourself, what are you getting all worked up about?

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