Breaking the Silence: The Basics

By Nicole Beaver


Let’s get down to the basics on mental health. I’m sure a lot of our readers know what Mental Health is. Your brain is an organ of the body and, as such, it should be taken care of, protected and stimulated. However, when it comes down to the finer details of things, many don’t know the fundamentals of mental health issues. For instance, exactly what is the difference between a mental illness and a mental disability? Are people with both just plain crazy and dangerous? And what does “Neurotypical” mean anyway?

Now let me put your minds at ease first and foremost. As someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome), I have befriended, dated, and met individuals who have had anything between depression to a fascinating case of Dissociative Identity Disorder! I do my research, and I, for one, know what it’s like to live day-to-day with something this impacting. We, as people who are not “neurotypical,” do things that are crazy. We can be the most difficult people on earth to live with, deal with, and understand. But let me emphasize that we live, breathe, and feel the same as you, albeit altered. Not all people with mental illnesses and disabilities are crazy, and I should know; I dated someone with diagnosed Schizoaffective Disorder as well as Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). I will touch base on this and other psychosis/delusion-based disorders in future articles.

What does “Neurotypical” mean, you might ask? Well, a nice little clinical definition of it is basically this: Those who do not display autistic/other negative neurological patterns of thought or behavior. For the non-science majors and those who do not have a big vocabulary, it basically means “your brain is okay!”

Now here’s where it gets tricky. People with autism, such as myself, use the word to differentiate ourselves from the collective norm of “okay-brained” people. But we have a neurodevelopmental disability which is very different from mental illnesses, so I’m going to use another set of definitions and somewhat dumb them down.

Mental Illness is a non-contagious disease of the mind that develops over time. It can be genetic, develop with substance abuse or with physical/emotional trauma. Common illnesses associated with this (caused by chemical deficiencies in the brain) include depression, anxiety disorders, Bipolar Disorders, stress-related disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, Schizophrenia, and other delusion-based illnesses. These can be developed at any time from childhood to late adulthood and can impact anyone.

Mental Disability or, I grimace as I write this, “Mentally Handicapped,” is a non-contagious condition in which the brain does not develop properly and can have impacts on not only functional capabilities, but also how the person can live daily. Often stemming from substance abuse or genetics, these are normally contracted during the gestation period. These include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Epilepsy, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), physical trauma to the brain, as well as other intellectual disabilities. They can develop mental illnesses as well.

The one thing these all have in common is that severity levels always, always, always differ! Someone may be more depressed, less anxious, more able to “function” without help, less able to deal with people, etc. No one is at just the same level and everyone deals with things differently. After all, difference is what makes us unique as human beings! In future articles, I will address mental health illnesses and disabilities, each with their stereotypes and what the real story behind it is. Don’t be alarmed though, I’m not just going to prattle on about debunking stigma, although the name of this column is “Breaking the Silence.” As a starting point, I think this is enough information for now.

In the next issue, I will be talking about Depression (the mythology and the actual meat) and a couple tips for those of us who deal with it daily.

Until next time, you are stronger than you know, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think!

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