Mental Disorders and Being Human
A good way to think of the various mental health disorders is as normal behavior exaggerated. What we find embedded in these disorders are thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make up part of the human condition as such. But these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are taken to extremes that end up exerting a highly negative impact on functioning.
The fact that mental disorders don’t exist in some other universe of functioning but instead represent typical ways of being in their exaggerated forms is probably why psychology students everywhere tend to diagnose themselves with lots of disorders over the course of their studies. They see themselves in the criteria because most of those criteria aren’t qualitatively different from ways they’ve thought, felt, and behaved but are only quantitatively different, are only exaggerated.
This can all become a huge problem if you really are struggling with a mental illness or find yourself in a support role for someone who is because the unconscious tendency is to start to stigmatize and sort of put into check any and all behaviors that suggest a drifting from the ‘normal’ to the ‘abnormal’, and sadly this often means the unwitting denial of the basic right to be a human being. Because at times we all experience ups and downs, we all get paranoid, we all misinterpret stimuli, we all obsess, we all experience existential anxiety, we all feel depressed.
But for those struggling with a mental illness it’s almost like inhabiting any of these states becomes tabu, it’s almost like the expectation becomes “You can’t be a human being anymore you’ve got to be a robot.” There’s no perfect solution to this problem, since obviously being aware of and defending against triggers that usher in episodes of mental illness is essential to mental health maintenance. But sensitivity can be increased around the issue, we can remember that everyone has the right to be less than perfect sometimes. And we can remember that it’s unfair to hold someone struggling with mental illness to a higher standard of behavior than people with good mental health.