It gives me the greatest of pleasure to be able to share this guest post shared with us today by a dear blogging friend of mine from over at Merry Marie. Marie has been a great supporter of the MHWG and also a great and much valued support to me personally and the guest post she has kindly shared with us carries a great deal of important truth:
Mental Illness is not contagious: No not even Schizophrenia
I have been following the noble blog Taking The Mask off for a while, and today I decided to do a guest post for the Mental Health Writers Blog.
Let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Marie Abanga and I am from Cameroon in Africa. I am every other woman, but also one with her own dose of mental challenges raging from Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and some mood swings which embarrass even my own-self especially when I burst into tears in public.
I am also a sibling who lost her only and dearest brother to Bi-polar disorder last year. He was 33 when he died. To add to my bio, I am a friend to many especially online, who have a mental illness or the other, one of whom has the ‘S’ label and others.
I visited her last month, and although she was in an institution, I stayed at her apartment which I cleaned up and over, and visited her in that ‘jungle’ twice a day for 5 days. I think with that bio, I can aptly write on the above topic.
Who wears the Face of Mental Illness?
I have personally not be diagnosed by any shrink, maybe because there was no thought of even seeing one back in Cameroon at the height of my challenges. It got so bad that I attempted suicide. I lived such parallel lives that even my mum didn’t know or would believe what I was going through. And then, the focus was rightly on my brother who had received a DSM grade because he found himself in the USA after winning the DV-Lottery. Now, several who knew us and me in particular, couldn’t tell that we had any such issues. Not only because of ‘stigma’ which pushes families including mine to ‘shut-up’, but also because back home we generally try to manage such ‘health issues’ differently. I mean you have to be walking naked in the streets and speaking in sort of tongues, before the mental illness label is given to you. This is why I ponder about who wears the face of mental illness. How many people can we point to on the streets who have a mental illness whether diagnosed or not? And if we can’t easily tell who wears the face of mental illness, how then can we treat those who dare to ‘come out open’ about theirs like ‘shit’? Do we think mental illness is contagious? I dare say no it isn’t. Ignorance, intolerance, lack of empathy and above all fear of the unknown can better explain all this ridiculous stigma surrounding mental illness.
If mental illness were contagious
I sometimes wonder where I would have been if mental illness were contagious. I loved my brother so much and we sometimes slept on the same bed. A few times during some manic episodes back home, he’ll ask me to sleep by his side, or stay with him in the hospital. At least back home families are allowed to stay by their loved ones 24/7 if they want. One person at a time. The system is also different, less focus on medication and more on alternative treatments. Indeed, in the memoir I wrote about my brother’s life when he died, his third stage which was in Cameroon, is to me and us his family, his best stage. And so, if I didn’t get contaminated then, why I beg to ask, are mentally ill treated most often ‘despicably’? I visited my friend in VT USA last month as I earlier said, and it was my maiden visit to the US. I even went there only because she invited me, because on my brother’s demise and in bad memory of the way he had been ‘treated’ by that system, I had vowed never to step foot in that country. I recall my own family being apprehensive of the visit to this friend I had never met before and even she herself once institutionalised again prior to my arrival, said I could cancel my visit if I wanted. I however knew it would do both of of us so good if I went, and I did. It took me a lot to get there, I almost lost track of her because she was moved and had no access to the internet, I was prepared to go to the red-cross. Then I had to brave flying in a Cessna for the first time in my life. But in the end it was so worth it and I learnt another humbling lesson in life. Above all, her mental illness was not contagious or else I would have caught it because I hugged her a few times before an RN soullessly told me about the ‘No touch Policy’ in there. Therefore, if mental illness is not contagious, why oh why the treatment why leaves so much to be desired?
I heard taking your meds compared to taking insulin
I was listening to some YouTube talk and the speaker said taking prescribed medication for a mental illness is as indispensable as taking insulin for a diabetic. Don’t ask me which medical exam the patient took before getting one of those ‘denigrating’ labels, or why prescriptions and combinations are sometimes changed and cocktailed ad infinitum.
Don’t ask me why the side effects of the meds can actually lead you to diabetics, eating and breathing disorders, heart complications and … Don’t ask me if there’s no big business going on somewhere in this whole industry, I mean please don’t ask if these mental health patients who for the sake of urging them to take their meds are compared to diabetics, are treated with even an iota of empathy like the ‘real diabetics’.
Comparing it to insulin for me is a ‘mockery’ period. I know and I am one of those people who fares better without ‘meds’ – I tried them but I couldn’t even fake compliance. I didn’t let the shrink out here get me to trying another one. Thank my Heavens I am learning more and more ways to deal with my ‘bad moments’ the earlier the better. Advocacy is one of the ways I do so.
Dear all, I will argue until it is proven beyond reasonable doubt, that mental illness is not contagious. Some say if it runs in the family, there is a high risk of it passing on to generations. That’s true, but there’s also a higher risk that it would not. It isn’t automatic that if your moma is obese you’re a sure next, and we can quote more examples. I advocate this openly and passionately for mental health because someone has to do something, just like what this noble blog is doing. I am not afraid of critics or what people might say or try to ‘stigmatize’ me, I am actually trying to ‘stigmatize stigma’ in return. Thank you all for reading and be assured that you can at least hug or smile at a mentally ill because their illness is not contagious.
[Editor’s Note: Again I would very much like to thank Marie for writing and sharing this with us. There are some important issues touched on and some essential questions asked in this post. And I hope you will all visit Marie’s blog as well as commenting below.]