Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

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Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

There has been an enormous amount of press and publicity about the Ebola virus and the lives this terrible communicable disease has recently claimed. The current statistic reports that presently the Ebola death toll nears 1,000 people worldwide. Thank goodness, steps are being taken to overcome this horrible killer. Lots of discussion, awareness, worry, work, research and medical methodologies are being implemented to find help. Lots of attention, lots of compassion…

What about Mental Illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports the following statistics (brace yourself):

  • One in four adults (61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in a given year.
  • 14.8 million Americans live with major depression
  • 42 million Americans have anxiety disorders
  • Approximately 60% of those suffering with mental illness do not receive any treatment
  • Individuals with mental illness have an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions
  • Adults with mental illness die on the average, 25 years earlier than other Americans largely do to treatable medical conditions
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and the 3rd leading cause for ages 15-24

These statistics are based on reported and diagnosed cases. The real numbers are probably much higher. Experts report that mental illness is on the rise.

Research has already suggested that there in an inheritable component to mental illness. But, is mental illness also a “communicable” disease? Are some people carriers of mental illness? Is it being spread around? After 35 years of psychotherapy practice, my opinion on these questions is “probably yes”. If you have mentally ill parents or siblings, live with a mentally ill partner or work/play with mentally ill people, your chances of contracting some form of it probably go up. If you find yourself repetitively in a stress-filled environment, your chances of breathing it in and contracting it probably go up. Everyone is at risk for mental illness. No one is immune to mental illness. No one.

As with any serious disease, the potential outcome for having mental illness is death. Are you concerned about Ebola? Get way more concerned about mental illness. The chances of you or someone you know “catching” it are far greater. What are you willing to do about this epidemic? Can we even begin to talk about it?

RIP Robin Williams


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Facebook and Mental Health

I have the honor of serving as a contributor/administrator of a Mental Health Facebook Page. This page has over 13,000 followers. The irony is that the page does not usually give me any direct exposure. I sign the end of each inspirational post with the name “Doc Ellie” and choose to stay somewhat sequestered in the social media shadows. Why wouldn’t I take more advantage of this platform?

Yes, yes; part of the reason is to maintain some privacy. But, in truth, the main reason is that I am using the platform to help others, not myself. Obviously, it is usually very rewarding. But sometimes, helping others through this social media venue is not for the faint-hearted. I have had some nasty, hurtful, attacking comments made on my “happy-to-help” posts for all to see. I have had to remove myself from my laptop on many occasions to refrain from defending my post, arguing or fighting back with some of the fans.

So what’s the point of this social media exercise? What do I get out of it? I have learned to thicken my author-skin, take some very raw feedback, push out of my comfort zone, and brace myself for some very tough love in return. I have learned to observe others be reactive to my writing in real time and just let it be. For me, these writing experiences might be better coined as Facebook Anti-Social Media with a silver lining. …some of the best training I have ever had.


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The Bystander Effect

I just read a book that described the research behind the Bystander Effect. It is a disturbing phenomenon, indeed, and it has been empirically proven in many studies. The misconception most of us hold is that when someone has been hurt, witnesses will rush to their aid. The sad truth is the more people who witness a person in distress, the less likely it is that any one person within the group of witnesses will help.

The line of thinking in the Bystander Effect is that if one person , alone, sees someone in  trouble, he or she will feel compelled to help. If three or more people are witnessing someone in trouble, each supposes someone else in the group will help and so the individual abdicates his or her personal responsibility to step in. According to David McRaney, author of You are Not So Smart, the Bystander Effect has cost plenty of victims either their physical and/or emotional well-being. In many cases, by-standing has caused victims their lives, while others looked on.

I can personally relate to the Bystander Effect. When I was traveling in Florence, Italy, I was unaccustomed to the uneven cobblestone walkways. Upon exiting my hotel, I tripped just outside the entrance and went down sprawling onto the sidewalk. I hurt my knee and could not immediately get up. The number of pedestrians who literally climbed over me was astounding. Scores of them. Not one person offered help. I don’t remember what hurt worse: the injury to my knee or the shame of being ignored via apathy. I think the latter. Gosh. How do some people sleep at night?

I believe that the Bystander Effect needs to be considered as seriously as leaving the scene of an accident or leaving the scene of a crime. If it was our civic and legal responsibility to help someone in need, perhaps there would be less bullying, less domestic abuse, less hate crimes, less assaults, fewer injuries and fewer victims. Why do you think people abuse or bully other people? …because they can!

I have decided that by-standing someone in distress is officially not part of my behavioral repertoire. If I see someone being mistreated or in danger, I want to act in some way to be of aid to the victim. In my opinion, not only is it the moral choice; it is my honor to be of service to another who may be in distress. Give it some thought. What stand do you take?