Mental Health Conditions are Legitimate Health Conditions

MAR. 28, 2018

By Ryann Tanap


It is widely accepted that if you have a health problem, you would see a medical professional who specializes in that problem’s proper treatment. If you have high cholesterol or are at risk of a heart attack, you see a cardiologist. If you have digestive problems, you see a gastroenterologist. If you have acne or other skin problems, you see a dermatologist.

But if you are faced with a mental health problem, is your first instinct to see a mental health professional?

Society has taught many of us to answer no. At least, this was the case for me when I was away at college. At the time, I attempted to balance academics, extracurricular activities and a part-time job—all while neglecting my own well-being. My solo circus act eventually came to a head one day in my foreign language class. I felt anxiety taking over my body, and I began crying uncontrollably. When my professor walked in, I rushed up to him and felt my throat tightening. Somehow, I managed to speak through my tears.

“I can’t be in class today,” I said between sobs. He nodded and encouraged me to speak with him during his office hours later that day. When we met, everything that had been going on in my mind poured out. I told my professor that my friend wanted to die and had attempted suicide over the weekend. I felt powerless and out of control. I couldn’t think straight. Then, my professor told me something that had honestly not occurred to me until that very moment.

“I am sorry to hear this. I really think you should go to the counseling center on campus. I think they can help you,” he recommended.

It was as if a wave of clarity hit me. Why didn’t I think of that? Why had I been isolating myself in my dorm room, sitting alone in fear? I hadn’t even considered going to the health center, let alone the counseling center. Looking back, I realize that it was because I never considered my mental health to be a health problem. I didn’t realize that my brain was just as important as the rest of the organs in my body.

The Brain and Mental Health

The brain is the most complex organ in our body and we’re constantly learning about how mental health conditions “live,” function and develop inside our brains. Additionally, mental health conditions can be hard to treat, as there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Two individuals with bipolar disorder may respond very differently to the same medication. Mental illnesses are often far more nuanced than physical illnesses—they’re not a perfected science. Perhaps this is why society has a hard time considering mental health conditions “actual” health conditions.

What is indisputable is that mental health conditions are in fact legitimate health conditions, just like physical illnesses. Additionally, half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24. That is why early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery. Additionally, mental health conditions can be lifelong conditions. However, with the right treatment plan, living well is possible.

Myself? After several years of pretending that I didn’t need help anymore, I decided to seek out a therapist. I’ve since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And with the support of loved ones, I go to therapy every week and am getting the treatment I need. I now see the importance of addressing any concerns with my health, especially my mental health, before they become serious.

Isn’t it time we all saw mental health conditions as legitimate health conditions?


Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.


APR, 17, 2018 05:08:24 PM
Send this article to the disability company (UNUM) that sent my husband back a letter last summer stating that they would ONLYPAY 1/2 AS MUCH DISABILITY MONEY AS A "PHYSICAL" PROBLEM when he was so sick he had to be hospitalized and missed 2 months of work because he became so severely incapacitated that he could not even function and could not be left alone. I find that there is SO much discrimination!

APR, 11, 2018 04:27:23 AM
Rare is the person who gets help at the first sign of a mental illness. Whether it's denial, societal stigma, not enough education, or all of the above; sharing our stories and coming closer to acceptance, is a healing comfort...

APR, 10, 2018 11:02:51 AM
I work in a Permanent Supportive housing site. There is a person here that has a mental health issue and she is not eating, not bathing, not taking care of herself and is incapable. We have taken her to the Mental health floor of the hospital after her threat to hurt herself. She is very depressed, paces constantly, cant sleep, has strange dreams. We know she will not take her medication no matter how we encourage her. Now she has really started talking to herself, she left a pan on the stove burning which make us fear for other residents. She paces constantly and has been found on the floor yelling some strange things about her m....f. is out and being in baby heaven.
We have tried through the mental health persons at two facilities to get her placed in a type of assisted living or nursing home which everyone says she does not qualify and we need suggestions on how to help her. There are many episodes where she leave excrement on the door handles, bathroom floors and counters which causes a health risk for other residents. We truly like her and want to help her but she is truly not competent to take care of herself but no one will help us. We have this persons well-being in mind and would like to know suggestions to get her placed so she will survive. She has lost a lot of weight because she will not eat and will not take food and cannot prepare it or cook. She came to us from a shelter which should have sent her through a program to house the mentally challenged. We do not have to staff or credentials to help her. Please advise any suggestions. We truly want her where she can be taken care of and mental health facilities locally are passing the buck. We want to get her help so she can survive.

APR, 01, 2018 08:47:18 AM
Longer (more frustrating) response: Worse than the sigma of having mental health issues is the stigma of trying to get help and not receiving any or receiving inappropriate help. I've seen this with my own eyes in at least two different cases with family members.

Then comes the convincing endless list of excuses from the broken system: Excuse number 1) The person has to want to get help...

I won't list the other numerous but convincing excuses I've heard. In hindsight, each excuse (one after another) was just another reason for the system to splain why it is not responsible for FAIL.

I'm not saying that mental health conditions shouldn't be treated like other health conditions. I agree they should. However, please stop with the excuses!

This also brings up a couple other points. First, should we really expect people with serious mental health issues (such as psychosis) to have the necessary self-awareness to seek help? Second, western medicine isn't doing that well at treating the other health conditions either (well except for surgeries, where surgeons do excel and get better every year). I won't even open the health insurance can of worms.

Even still, mental health treatment is the worst health care field by far. We've barely left the stone age! We've gone from patients in atrocious dungeons (literally dungeons) to patients sleeping in the streets and then back to patients in slightly less atrocious dungeons (jails). All the while NAMI has the gall to focus on blaming patients for not seeking help.

APR, 01, 2018 08:46:08 AM
Shorter (more compelling) response: Have you considered that maybe there would be less stigma around mental health issues if people didn't generally believed it to be a chronic untreatable condition, i.e. if better treatments were accessible and readily available?

MAR, 29, 2018 11:43:05 PM
Mindy Watson
Thank you for sharing your mental health journey! I would have to say the first contributor of my illness, outside of genetics, would be the trauma sustained from my parents divorce around age 6. The arguments led me to start shutting down when I knew conflict was on the rise-this is a defense mechanism I am working through at 39. At the age of 8 I received an electrical injury to the mouth resulting in severe scaring and even deeper scaring on self confidence. At age 15 my brother was diagnosed with leukemia, I shutdown, I ignored reality and partied away with friends and when I likely entered my first manic phase. At 19 years old I was in a tragic non alcohol, non drug related car accident that resulted in the death of another driver.

By age 19 I experienced 4 defined events resulting in PTSD, many instances curled up wanting to die, not knowing how to deal.

Initially treated for depression at 19, I have spent the last 20 years going into phases of selfcare then stopping. It was not the way I should have lived, I could have been happier. However, depression is seeded in too much reflection on the past. Over the last two years I have been committed to taking care of myself. I educate my children about my Bipolar I Disorder, Anxiety, PTSD and ADHD. I want them to have to tools to be self aware.

MAR, 29, 2018 12:59:47 PM
Liam W.
I totally agree! For years I tried to deny the fact that I needed help. That was because I did not know what was wrong with me and I thought to myself, "I am okay. Other people have it worse, so I'm fine." But in reality, I was only hurting myself more by not accepting help. Also, I came to realize that yes, a lot of people may have it worse, but that doesn't invalidate me or make me any less important than everyone else. Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more important. Everyone needs to take care of themselves because, in the end, you have to have your own back too, not just friends, family, partners, or anyone else. You matter too. In the words of The Doctor, "In 900 years of time and space, I've never met anyone who wasn't important."

MAR, 29, 2018 11:48:33 AM
Annette Robertson
Great message. Thinking about those young college students and how this message needs to be heard throughout the year on campuses.

MAR, 29, 2018 12:54:52 AM
Alisa Grainawi
Thank you for sharing. I am sending so much love your way. My experience with depression (now re-diagnosed as bipolar type II) has been a rough road after experiencing some awful, sometimes suicidal, feelings/thoughts/episodes as a pre-teen. And yes, thanks to all the stigma and being brought up with next to no understanding of mental health, I unfortunately told no one until after it all came back and hit hard after my first kid was born. It's a rough journey for all of us.

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