Mental illness still carries a stigma. Even in families – in fact, perhaps most in families – those who suffer mental illness are often ostracized for being different than their family members. They are often treated as though mental illness is a personality trait to be weeded out and replaced with something more normal. “If you were just normal, we could get along. Stop being so weird.” “Why can’t you just be like everyone else?” “It’s all in your imagination.”
No, it’s not in our imaginations – but it is all in our brains. Mental illness is all about the way our brains work. Yes, some mental illnesses can be treated with medications that help the patient live a more normal life, but often at the expense of feeling any emotion at all. So, the trick becomes, how much better do I want to feel, and therefore, how much medication should I take? There is no simple answer. Many sufferers struggle along for years without finding a medication and dosage that helps more than it hurts.
Unfortunately, science is not yet able to explain why some people who are highly creative suffer mental illness – in particular, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It seems the difference in the way those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia think and the way their brain works is pronounced. But don’t we all have differences in the way we think and perceive? Isn’t it possible that the differences are just locations along a continuum that includes some heightened states of creativity and some depressed states of creativity? Don’t we all swing from normal to not-so-normal at times? Don’t we all possess the stirrings of what we call mental illness?
Until society acknowledges that mental illness is not something evil to be done away with, and instead is a difference in the way our brains work, I think people with mental differences will continue to be treated like village idiots and made to feel unwanted. Not that everyone does that, but as a society, we do not try to understand and help. We just want the weird to go away.