Mental Illness or Ill Mentality?


Mental illness has been on the verge in the 21st century and many scientists and psychologists have tried to test their therapies and medical interventions. The history of mental illness dates back to before Sigmond Freud or Carl Jung, the most well-known psychologists today. Humans have always given importance to their minds and have tried to find cures for several mental conditions. Before we had an understanding of the brain and the nervous system, the public had viewed mental illness as a sign of demonic possession. For this reason, there were more asylums built to imprison these so-called crazy patients. In the late 1500s when Hippocrates, the early Greek physician, started to attribute illness to physical disorder and not religious propaganda, mental illness was progressed into a more pathological condition. More and more people understood that people weren't just crazy, there was both a psychological and biological disorder of the nervous system which prevented these people from acting normal. Benjamin Rush, who worked in the US military, was the first American psychiatrist who rid the idea of demonic possession and provided treatments that aimed at improving more medical symptoms such as arrhythmia(abnormal heart rate) that caused aggression, high temperature, and fever that caused what is today called hypochondria or the excessive anxiety that comes with an illness. Rush's medical theory on mental illness was focused on abnormality in blood vessels(which was later changed to abnormality of the neurons and chemical transmission at synapses). 

Many existential philosophers such as Nietzche, Camus, Schopenhauer, and Kafka all wrote about their traumatic experiences and how they shaped their minds. Their philosophies would be the cornerstone for the highly existential psychotherapy which Freud developed in the 1800s. If there is one thing that the history of mental illness can teach us it is the fact that mental illness is a product of both our biology as well as the environment. 

In today's era after five publications of the DSM, we have a plethora amount of diagnoses related to psychiatry and somatic mental illnesses. Mental illness can arise from a comorbid condition such as cancer or hypertension, or it can be diagnosed on its own. This writing will focus on the psychological aspects of mental illness and what it means to be mentally ill. Mental illness is much more than the assessment of several symptoms presented in the DSM criteria. Mental illness is embedded in our social media, in our schools, in our homes, at work, at the grocery stores, and our parties. We simply have to recognize the environment and its predisposition. 

There is a great quote that a wise sage once said, the mind can be a dangerous servant but if well trained it turns out to be a beautiful servant. All mental illness arises from the decapacitation of the mind. When the person no longer has the autonomy to exercise their will and do their daily chores because of a nervous breakdown, we can assume that the mind has become a master. The question we must be asking is who controls who. Is it the brain that controls your thoughts, actions, impulses, movement, behavior, or do is it 'you' who control the brain? If it is your brain controlling what you call 'you' or what is 'yours' then clearly it has become the master and you are decapitated. This is where illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD come into play. Oftentimes, people can't control their symptoms, so they require medication or particular therapy to get back to their regular selves. The natural question then becomes, how do the people who are mentally ill revert to their situation and start to control their symptoms and their mind. In other words, how do they make a servant out of their minds? 

We know that a psychological burden is much more difficult to handle than any physical injury given that it isn't extremely painful. So vulnerable population has a much harder time overcoming their internal turmoil and starting to handle their mind. Techniques such as cognitive reconstruction, decatastrophizing,  guided imagery, and other therapeutic interventions have helped some people, but often times there is something more that is needed in the treatment plan.  

Most of us aren't severely mentally ill to the point we need to be admitted to the hospital or require medications daily. However, we are challenged by daily struggles and in today's era, we are conflicted with social networks which present so many of its problems. For those individuals who aren't vulnerable, they must take extra precautions to make sure they don't become vulnerable in the future. This is often referred to as primary intervention where the illness is prevented before the symptoms arise. And this is where the phrase ill mentality comes into play. Even though all of us may not have a mental illness, all of us possess some kind of ill mentality. This ill mentality often creates stress and anxiety in our life and disturbs our peaceful nature. It creates a master of our mind and reduces our autonomy to live in peace. As the ill mentality starts to grow, it creates opportunistic mental infections where we are more prone to further suffering and are sensitive to even the smallest of insults. In other words, we allow the environment, the mind, and its cognitive processes to control us. We become victims of our ill minds. And all of us are susceptible to this condition. 

So what should we, as a general population, do to make sure we don't put ourselves in a position where we are likely to get a severe mental illness. How do we withstand the negativity that comes from our minds? The answer lies in mindfulness and the practice of equanimity. Mindfulness is the ability to be present at the moment and understand what is happening both inside and outside the mind, and be able to dissociate from any unwanted worrying thoughts. Ill mentality can be defined as anything that obstructs our peace of mind at the moment. But through mindfulness, you aren't trying to change anything that is out of your control, you are simply being aware of it. The more you are aware of it and the less you allow it to control you, the more equanimous you become. Equanimity is the state of mind where the ill mentality is not able to affect our behavior or thoughts. It simply rises and falls.

As noted earlier, an ill mentality can come from within or outside the mind. If it comes from the outside, and we try to avoid it, it is going to come from within through imagination. For example, think about a time when you were stressed about an event and chose to avoid it. Avoiding it physically only creates an avenue for it to strengthen mentally. So you start to overthink, have anxiety about what would've happened if you did something else, and so on. So avoiding situations doesn't solve anything. Sometimes people try to become aggressive about it and try to solve it head-on. Though this does work sometimes, there are times when things are out of control and the aggression only piles up over time. The path of mindfulness suggests remaining steady when you come across an ill mentality. If its source is outside, focus within yourself and try to pay attention to your psychological state of mind. You can't change the environment, but you can change your reaction to it. And the best way to do this is by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through mindfulness and breathing exercises. 

If the ill mentality comes from within, say for example thoughts of low self-esteem, lack of motivation, or even suicidal ideation, then the best method of retreating is by being mindful of the intense pain. Habituation to pain often seen in depression and suicide often numbs the individual and they become excessively demotivated to do anything in life. But mindfulness isn't just about being numb to the emotion. Mindfulness is a cognitive tool for reminding ourselves that the internal conflict is a product of several different events in the past, but this conflict won't last forever for there will always be new events, new feelings, new experiences, and new ideas that will create better internal states. Mindfulness is the ability to stay calm in a crisis and reminding ourselves of impermanence and resilience. If we can practice this state of mind, we can fight ill mentality, and by fighting ill mentality we can find a cure to mental illness before it even occurs. 

The bottom line is ill mentality often leads to mental illness, and an ill mentality often comes from both within our minds and outside of our minds. Our suffering won't reduce by changing our environment, because there is always a chance it occurs again. Our suffering won't reduce by being aggressive about our practices and finding coping in the short term. Our suffering can only reduce by changing our mental habits and cultivating mindfulness which brings equanimity and a perspective of being resilient regardless of how painful the suffering may be. Only then can the mind become our servant. A tough task, but one that leads to an immense amount of peace in the end.