Relationships, Categories and Mental Illness

Rashmi Sheila

My mind boggles when I think about the categories that exist in this world; the categories of so many sorts that sometimes it creates a kind of vagueness in mind, in thinking. Once I was watching a movie called Too Young to Die?, where a young girl of 15 looking for a relationship, family and love gets convicted of murder as an adult, despite being a minor, and is given a death penalty. Based on a true story, Amanda (Mandy; main character of the movie) can be a very good example where a girl was forced into a category of druggist and criminal without considering any other social and cultural aspects of her life. She was not born criminal or a druggist. She acquired it. And that was not her sole decision to acquire it. There were many other things surrounding her, which led to things one after the other. We forget to see that crime is a product of society, and when we talk about a crime and criminals, we treat them as a category outside of the society. And the ones, that can convict someone, decide on a life and death of someone, is also a category, a category in power. It shows how dominant one category can be over the other, while this other category is either voiceless or is deprived of being listened too.

Categorizing and creating hierarchy has been an inherent nature of human beings and many such examples can be extracted and excavated from the history. While doing so, we forget the essence and value of one person’s relationship with the other person or human being. A relationship of a human being with the other human being, what a beautiful thing to think and talk about! I had not thought about a relationship in a way I do now before I came to Sambandh. The interwoven beauty of relationship has made me realize that magic can happen in real worlds.

reshma-valliapanRelationship and categories, in a context of mental health is something that we all should consider discussing about. We live in a 21st century, however, our thoughts still breed from the past centuries. And instead of critically analyzing, thinking and taking decisions, we judge and don’t even bother to look at what we have concluded. If anyone reading this has also read Reshma Valliappan’s book Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenist, they would know and relate to what I am talking about. Throughout the book, Reshma’s attempt has been to provocatively revolt against the labeling of mental illness and social stigma. She had a childhood where she was separated from her dear friends and grandparents just because she was a little different than the other kids. She was repetitively tortured and misunderstood which led to many emotional traumas at different stages of her life. When at the age of 22, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, all her world was changed. With years of struggle with a disease, oneself and a society, a new and creative Reshma was born who could not only accept herself as she was, but also come out to speak about it and fight against different sort of stigmas and issues related to mental health, along with other social issues.

Resh Val, as she calls herself, has many influential articles in her personal website. In one of her short articles titled “Truth about Mental Health,” she says, “I personally don’t believe in the label ‘mental illness’. I believe that there is an experience that can’t be explained in regular language. I believe that I have a creative illness and hence the only treatment for it is creativity.” I find it so fascinating; the way she has interpreted it underlies so many truths that I can’t help myself from accepting it. The labeling of the “mental illness” is one of the main factors that promote the social stigma. It is, first of all, very difficult to make people understand that mental illness is just like all other illnesses. There might be some reasons related to it, one important being, it being related to mind.

Mind has always been very important part of philosophical works. Earliest philosophers like Socrates and Plato initiated in talking about mind. Socrates says, “there is no illness of the body except for the mind.” This statement does not discard mind being outside of the body. It can simply be related to how physical health or well being does not matter unless our mind is free of socially planted diseases, for example, stigmatizing things, which is so much applicable in the case of “mental illness.” In this sense, we, who believe ourselves as mentally sound, are more sick in mind than those who are really suffering from mental illness. He also says, “true wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us.” If we really understand or attempt to understand, we would not create a dichotomous world and separate mental illness as the opposite of being sane.

We forcefully enter the world of people (here: persons with mental illness) and then instead of attempting to understand the world they live in, we start judging them. How much do we know and can understand about the problems they face? We forget that (Socrates again!). And healing the soul is only possible when we have an environment providing healthy mind. Healthy mind comes with happiness, love and positive aspects. It is a necessity of all but we try to deprive certain category of people as “mentally ill,” and on top of that, we claim that we are sane. It is actually them, who require “sound life” more compared to us. As responsible adults, it is our duty to create a beautiful life by: cutting out the stigma, looking at them as we look at ourselves and help them create a beautiful world for themselves.

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