CAN MENTAL AND MEDICAL ILLNESSES REALLY BE EQUATED?

June 8, 2015

The statement “mental illness is like any other illness” has largely become an accepted truth. This implies that mental disorders, like other medical conditions, all have biological origins.

Aside from mental health complications, because of neurological illnesses, medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes do not typically alter one’s core self significantly. However, mental disorders do by occurrences that change one’s thinking, perception and consciousness of the self, others and the world.

Neuroscience advancements have taught us that several mental illnesses develop as a result of underlying biological differences. Yet, many of the behaviors and experiences that form mental disorders’ core presentations still can’t be explained by neurobiology. Even if this changes in the future, it will still be necessary to understand the experiences of people with mental illness psychologically.

Likening mental disorders to medical conditions confines them to an organ, namely the brain, within one’s biology, but fails to recognize their uniqueness in terms of how they affect the self. This can’t be justified based on our current understanding, nor does it adequately serve patients, or the general public.

Equating mental illnesses with medical conditions can be helpful clinically, particularly in the context of acute crises where medication often plays an essential role. This can become problematic later, however, because it often compromises compliance with crucial psychological and social treatments.

The statement “mental illness is like any other medical illness” is, at its best, an over simplification of a complex human problem and, at its worst, harming patients, families and the field of mental health. Instead, this conversation needs to integrate the complexities of human thinking, behaviour and memories, including the ideas of the self and consciousness.

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