Monday, 30 November 2015

On the attitude of M.E. patients towards mental illness

Many people mistakenly believe that M.E. is a mental health condition, because of this M.E. suffered can get very touchy about the issue. They are often found saying things like: 'M.E. is not psychosomatic it is a real condition.' I must admit that I have done this too. The problem is that this sort of language belittles mental health problems; it is highly offensive to say that mental health problems are not real. In an attempt to defend ourselves we end up causing more pain by offending suffers of other chronic illnesses. At the end of the day, these are people who we should be more understanding of. They too have an unseen chronic illness which is misunderstood by society and even believed by some to be a 'choice'. They are in the same boat as people with M.E, we should support them and they should support us.

I know that I have spoken to close friends, strangers and medical professionals who have clearly held the view that M.E. is a psychiatric condition. I have always find it aggravating when people are unwilling to look beyond the exterior of M.E. and realise that it is a physical disease. It struck me recently is that if those people really did think that I was mentally unwell, they treated me appallingly! My point is that it is really easy for me to be aware of the mistreatment of M.E. suffers, but the same thing is happening to other illnesses too. In a different way of course. I have noticed that people who believe that I am mentally unwell have drawn away from me, and medical professionals have not followed it up.

Not to mention the unhelpful patronising suggestions that I have had from people such as "try and think more positively" "maybe if you were able to forget that you are ill it will go away" "try and punish yourself every time that you feel exhausted" "go outside more" "just push through" "maybe if you had more friends you would get better?" "have more fun". All of these comments I am sure would not be comforting to those who have mental health problems, just as they are not helpful to me.

A phrase that people with M.E. often say is 'it's physical it's not in the mind'. As someone who has studied biochemistry, I have spent many hours in the lab working on chemical experiments. I can certainly say that chemicals are real you can see them, touch them and move them. Just because chemical reactions are happening in the brain in tiny amounts, and because we can't see them doesn't mean they aren't happening. In someone who is mentally ill, these reactions are happening wrong, just as the metabolic and immune reactions are happening incorrectly in people with M.E.

I am fed up of hearing defensive knee jerk reactions from the M.E. community saying that M.E. is a 'genuine' illness. No one would choose a life of depression or any other mental illness for that matter, mental illness is not a choice. We are not so different from each other, both patient groups are wildly misunderstood. Many people suffer from both physical and mental health problems, that is nothing to be ashamed of. After living with the stigma of mental illness, without actually suffering from it for many years, I don't care what people think. People are afraid of talking about mental health because they think that they might catch it which is ridiculous and offensive. Mental health problems thrive off secrecy, it is only by talking about them that we can get rid of the stigma and help people to get a diagnosis as early as possible. I am prepared to fight mental illness stigma as well as M.E. stigma, both patient groups need it.

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