While it may be just perception, it seems mental illness is getting worse in our society. It’s also possible mental illness is more identifiable now.


Mental illness has been around forever, but I don’t remember it growing up.

As a young child, I remember hearing a story once in a while about someone who took their own life, but it was once in a while, as in not very often and most especially NOT a kid. I don’t remember anyone ever having major emotional breakdowns or outbursts when I was in elementary or middle school. Even in high school I only knew about a couple of attempted or actual suicides.

I remember hearing scary things about mental hospitals, but I never knew anyone who actually went to one. I can’t say that anymore…

While there were medications available for mental health issues back then, it wasn’t something you commonly saw prescribed to kids. I’m sure there were kids with mental illness when I was young, but I don’t remember being around them.

Maybe I didn’t see it because I WAS the kid with mental illness. Who knows. In all seriousness, I had some behavioral issues as a kid, but I was never depressed and I never wanted to hurt myself. I’m not bragging. I guess I was just lucky.

Never once when I was in elementary school did a teacher have to evacuate a classroom because a student was out of control. I never heard it in any other classrooms either, yet today it happens quite regularly as public schools are filled with kids who have frequent violent or destructive outbursts. We even see children as young as elementary age attempting and completing suicide. 

To clarify, I’m not saying there weren’t people with mental issues back then. I’m saying it just seems like serious mental health problems were not as prevalent as they are now.

You would think times would have been much worse in those days with a populous of undiagnosed, unmedicated and untreated kids running rampant, but depression and emotional issues just weren’t a thing. If they were, it wasn’t nearly at the level of what we experience today.

This is a broad statement, but one I think it’s one many would agree with.

Back then, behavioral issues were just that behavioral issues which were dealt with by discipline, not medicine. If anyone did have attention deficit disorder or oppositional defiance when I was young, it was chalked up to kids being kids.

But what if we were diagnosed as kids back then?

What would be different today?

If you polled a group of people between the ages of 40-50, I’m willing to bet probably more than half are or WERE on an anti-depressant or anxiety medication at some point recently in their adult life.

If we were treated as kids, would we still have as many issues as we do now?

When I was a child, my actions didn’t have a label attached other than being “immature”, “uncalled for” or just plain “stupid” sometimes. I was never diagnosed as ADD or ADHD, but I’m sure I would be today because everyone and every thing has to have a mental illness label attached.

It also seems like mental health issues are becoming more apparent at younger and younger ages with more serious symptoms than in the past…

ADD, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, ODD, BPD, MDD, GAD, SAD…

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an estimated 1 in 5 people (adults AND youth) experience mental illness in a given year, but I know this number is MUCH higher now when you factor in those who are not diagnosed by the new standards.

But why is this???

Has society gotten so bad we’re no longer able to cope with everyday life?

Are our kids so out of control we have no choice but to medicate them?

Everyone has a story for what brought them to the land of mental illness, but it’s hard for me to accept the fact so much of our society has gone off the rails. Sometimes I wonder if mental illness really is contagious, because so many people have issues now.

Was there a really such a shift in culture where mental illness was suddenly accepted? Or was it companies who produce mental health medications increased advertising in an effort to get doctors to prescribe and diagnose more?

The answer is probably a little bit of both.

If you read through the bible of the mental health business, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), you can find a diagnosis for ANY abnormal behavior you could possibly think up.

Advances in modern medicine have taken us from the dark ages where mental illness was once looked upon as demonic possession, but today it seems like EVERYONE suffers from depression, anxiety or PTSD, including celebrities and pop culture icons who glamorize it.

As such, mental illness has become trendy. Drug companies and advertisers have caught on to this and will do everything in their power to market their wares.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Many in the mental health field don’t like how mental health is being glamorized, BUT, thanks to the mainstreaming of mental illness, more people are willing to come out of the darkness to acknowledge they need help. More parents are also willing to seek professional help for their children. This is good.

Let me make this clear – being mentally ill is NOT trendy or cool, but if public perception has changed enough to make someone break to the silence all too common with mental illness, I’m okay with that.

For a while it is going to seem like mental illness is getting worse because physicians are making a wider range of diagnoses, but we also have to remember the population of the United States has increased dramatically at the same time.  In 1985 the population was about 237 million. In 2018 it’s nearly 328 million. That’s a lot more people out there with potential mental illness.

I can find reasons to justify why more people appear to have mental illness, but I can’t explain why the symptoms appear to be getting worse. If you have an answer, I’d love to hear it.

Whatever the reasons, I hope more people will continue to seek help for themselves or their loved ones and friends.I can’t tell you why it’s there, but it’s there.

Break the silence so we can fix it.

Written by Marty Augustine

 

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Marty

Marty is a Kansas City based writer, author and entertainer who often speaks and writes about mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Please feel free to leave a comment and share this article with your friends and family.

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