Mental Illness – Personal or Societal Issue?

Do you ever stop to wonder if the exploding rates of mental illness might signify that there isn’t a personal issue going on with many people, but instead, a societal or lifestyle issue? The pandemic has shown without a doubt that outside influences can make huge differences in collective mental health. The isolation, the fear of the virus, the missing out on all the things you love to do – these affected us hugely in the past couple years.

Even before the pandemic though, mental illness had been a steadily growing problem. Most of the time the medical establishment treats it all as a personal issue. You must have a chemical imbalance, a mood disorder, or you are doing things wrong and somehow causing your own problems. But what if WE aren’t causing the problem? What if the system is?

In our world, people have become increasingly isolated and lonely, way before the pandemic started. The internet has brought some great things, but it has also made it so that we rely less on real, local community. We were made to be tribal, group animals, but many of us have lost our tribe long ago. Even when we try to build a sense of community, I feel like many of us have no idea how to go about doing that in our disconnected, busy, hustle culture.

We also live in a world where many people are forced to work ridiculous hours at jobs they hate just to survive. And then they barely survive at that. They are swimming in debt and praying nothing major goes wrong between paychecks. Corporations are treated better and are often given more rights than us. We are told to consume and we will feel better, but that only leads to emptiness and more debt.

If you happen to be disabled, like me, you are often made to feel like you are a drain on society and are weak and useless. Depending on the disability, you can become even more isolated and lonely. Many of us have few close family ties to begin with, and frequently, family members and friends eventually end up moving away from each other so they can get a good job and survive.

And don’t even get me started on the corruption, genocide, and other downright criminal activity the government leeches off us to support. Or how we are out of touch with the natural world around us, and even worse, destroying it at a rapid rate.

Maybe it isn’t you. Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it is all of us, and maybe it is time we make some huge changes.

Transparent vs Whiny

This morning I woke up thinking about my online reputation and what I would like it to be. When others read my poetry and personal blog posts (especially the ones having to do with mental illness, autism, or chronic pain/chronic illness) the things I strive to represent are honesty, openness, relatable vulnerability, realistic hope when possible, comforting solidarity, the healing power of sharing our pain, and the courage and inspiration to keep going, even when things feel hopeless.

However, since I myself struggle from mental illness and chronic pain, being transparent and honest means that often my viewpoint comes across as dark and bleak. I don’t try to hide that or tone it down when it happens, because to me, that is part of being honest and vulnerable enough to share what the experience of dealing with those issues is like on a daily basis. Putting a happy face on it would be lying.

My only worry is that sometimes the reality of dealing with daily mental and physical pain is that you can start to sound whiny. Part of me says, “well, of course, you are going to sound whiny now and then if you are in pain all the time! No shit!”, but for some reason our culture makes whining out to be such a negative thing that most of us want to avoid that look at all costs.

Maybe we as readers and audiences have to decide rather we really want full honesty and openness (even if it includes some whining and negativity) or if we pretend to want the truth, but in reality just want a short, scrubbed clean, feel good version of life. I know which I prefer, but I guess everyone has to decide for themselves.