Where Does Personality End and Mental Illness Begin?

By: Tim Wolfe
Published on September 26, 2011
Last Updated on Sunday, July 19, 2015 at 11:42 AM
Total Updates: 5

A mental illness is easily defined as schizophrenia, autism, down-syndrome, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorders to mention a few. These mental illnesses are diagnosable dysfunctions, but there are several more dysfunctions plaguing society not as socially recognized or catered to as the more popular diagnoses. However, there are minor and often disregarded dysfunctions hindering the lives of many people throughout the United States and world. Many dysfunctions are passed off as a colorful personality or backwards lifestyle, and in many cases, never offer substantial hurdles for those harboring the cognitive-dysfunction. A personal integration of self actualization, understanding, and tolerance of mental illnesses and symptoms can offer enrichment, stability, contentment, and peace upon one's self and interconnected others.

Mental Illness is nothing new to mankind or society, and is ancient as religion. While speaking of religion, persons with mental illnesses were often thought to be possessed by evil spirits. Therefore, the intervention and treatment of those experiencing mental infirmities was generally from a religious or spiritual modality. When a religious/spiritual ritual or ceremony did not correct the mental illness, the inflicted was often shunned and/or exiled from the society in which they lived. This manner of treatment and/or lack of treatment is still in operation today via labeling, prejudice, and discrimination.

As recent as the 1970's, those believed to be, or those suffering mental illnesses were labeled, shunned, exiled, and greatly misunderstood in the United States often falling victim to abuse and unnecessary surgery. Lobotomy was a trend in the mental health science in the early and mid 20th Century. In a lobotomy, a "Surgeon/Physician" would alter an area of a patient's brain believed to adjust behavior through the eye-socket, oftentimes, with little to no fact based evidence of mental illness. It was not until the 1970's Mental Health Movement that patient rights began to be observed and understood within the mentally ill population countering the magnitude of shame and suffering encompassing these individuals in The United States. The fear of one's own, or loved one's unique or abnormal behaviors paved the road for modern society's stigmatization, discrimination, and the turning of a blind eye towards mental illnesses in hopes of not becoming one of 'them' (Talmet, de Crespigny and Cusack).

For example, alcohol and/or drug addiction is often seen as a mere drug or alcohol related problem opposed to a mental illness. In Talmet's study of Alcohol-drug Addict Discrimination, documentation of people presenting to public hospitals with an acute alcohol/drug related conditions at risk of dying were denied medical and nursing treatment due to the nature of the substance related condition (Talmet, de Crespigny and Cusack). There is no other way to analyze such a situation but as discriminatory and prejudice.

Alcohol is the number one drug of choice and abuse in the United States according to the 2004 survey of the National Institute on Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). NIAAA statistics show that 17.6 million Americans suffer alcoholism or have serious alcohol-related problems that are, or may be treatable (Kolp). Kolp also notes, according to NIAAA, estimates that alcohol-related disorders contribute 200,000 estimated deaths and cost the United States $185 billion per year. Substance abuse is a wide spread emotional and economical epidemic compromising the lives of many Americans, but is yet to be substantial enough for society to recognize and consider the latter results of their prejudice.

Another mental issue crippling the human body, social liberty, and the Nation as a whole is obesity. From a glance, obesity may be misconstrued as a physical condition, but multiple psychological correlations contributing to a person consuming far beyond their needed amount of daily calories puts obesity in a category of a pathological eating disorder (Sallet, de Alvarenga and Ferrão). The American obesity epidemic of today is a widespread topic under mass research and debate. Volkow and O'Brien write, "Obesity is characterized by compulsive consumption of food and the inability to restrain from eating despite the desire to do so."

The compulsion to continue abusing a substance such as food, alcohol, or any other craved substance with the desires to stop is classified as a mental illness according to the DSM-IV-TR. Food activates brain reward cognition via palatability activating dopamine, whereas, drugs, use the same circuitry with the same pharmacological effects on the hypothalamus region of the brain (Volkow and O'Brien). Considering the cognitive components of obesity, addiction/cognition modeled centered intervention may quell as much, if not more, than behavioral modeled intervention such as exercise and diet.

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