The mental illness “epidemic” is in the news again today. Last week, we learned that 20% of US children suffer from some form of mental disorder. This week, an Oxford University research project reports that women are 40% more likely to become mentally ill that men are. Do the math: for every ten men that are mentally ill, fourteen women are.
Is this why women have occasionally been called the weaker sex? No, but it does illustrate precisely why psychiatry and psychology are often regarded as weaker disciplines.
In real medicine, a natural condition in which the body is functioning as designed is not classified as “illness.” Pregnancy, for example, is not a sickness. Doctors are commonly called upon by expectant moms simply to ensure the health of the unborn child- not because Mom is considered diseased. A man who gets a stomach ache after eating and drinking too much is not urged to visit a physician. A seasoned runner who is exhausted for two hours after a marathon is not treated as sickly or infirm. All of these conditions are normal responses to life. Time, not medicine, is the solution.
But in the vague domain of mental health, people are encouraged to seek counseling or medical attention for grief after losing a loved one; for anger after being betrayed in marriage; for being fidgety and uninterested in a boring middle school classes. Grief, anger, and boredom are normal human emotions which occur occasionally in every life. Like the famous male erection “that lasts four hours,” these natural emotions and responses are only considered problematic if they continue for inordinate amounts of time or if they continually interfere with the normal responsibilities of life.
A woman who is depressed because her mother has passed away, her child is seriously ill ,or her husband has lost his job is not mentally ill. To the contrary, she would seem to be mentally disturbed if she did not feel this way while experiencing those life conditions. Empathy is a virtue. It is not a crisis in search of a drug.
As one survivor of the massive Moore, Oklahoma tornado explained today, “It’s not what I experienced that matters; it’s what I brought away from it.” Learning to deal with all the emotions of life is a discipline; not a disease. That’s why healthy people value the role of faith for coping with the joys and challenges of life and growing through them.
Lift up the Cross!