The beautiful mind
FEB 7 — I recently began my nine-week placement in psychiatry, and I have really been swept away by the complexity as well as the manifestations of disease of the human mind. This article is not to teach you psychiatry, or to argue its importance in the medical profession. I just want to give you an interesting five minutes’ read, and then I hope you will put some thought into the issue.
First, we need to arm you with some facts.
In the United Kingdom, the largest expenditure by category by the National Health Service is on mental illness. Here, the government has to spend more money treating mental illness than heart problems. They spend £200 (about RM1,000) per person on mental illness, but only £144 per person on heart problems.
It is quite natural for you to think that the British government is being a little bit silly in this instance. Really? Spending more money treating people with depression instead of saving people with heart attacks and cancer? Why would they do that?
Another fact then. One in four adults in the United Kingdom will suffer or has suffered from mental illness at one point in their lives.
Now you’re shocked. One in four? That seems like quite a lot, more than 15 million people in the United Kingdom’s 62-million-strong population. Surely that can’t be right.
Mental illness involves a spectrum of diseases, which include and are not limited to depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, dementia and learning disabilities. All these problems, and many more that haven’t been mentioned, are difficult to deal with, sometimes incurable, and may persist for many years.
While a heart attack is terrifying in the short term, a child with schizophrenia has a 20 per cent chance of being schizophrenic for the rest of his or her life. We are talking about possibly 70-80 years of suffering.
Now that you know that things like alcoholism, drug abuse and dementia are considered mental illnesses, I’m sure you can name at least four or five people that you know or have heard of with these problems. It’s now starting to make sense, why such a large amount of money is spent on mental illness, and why psychiatry is not just about studying what the public thinks are “crazy people”. It could happen to anyone.
These problems are real and they surround us. In fact, more terrifying than having a heart attack or cancer, most people may not realise that they are suffering from a mental illness. They may have hallucinations, or be uncontrollably addicted to whiskey, and you can put them through all the scanners in the world but you will not be able to find a single thing wrong with them. Nobody can see it, nobody can cure it, and very few people looking in from the outside can believe that it is as awful as described. It is lonely and frightening to be a mentally ill patient.
That’s all very well, but what does this have to do with you?
In Malaysia, more people have mental illness than have cancer. For the 24 million people in Malaysia, there are only seven child psychiatrists, not all of whom have had formal training.
Also, more importantly, facts aside, the general public does not have much awareness about mental illness. There is stigma and stereotypes born from fear of what we do not understand, and lack of awareness about the warning signs and what we can do to help the people we know and love who may be going through such problems.
So educate yourself today, and get rid of the stigma and fear, because it is time we improve our care services for those who have thus far been suffering in silence.
* The terms used in this article to depict the public perspective of mental illness are not intended to offend any party or degrade the vulnerable, nor influence negative points of view.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.