The Mind Health Empathy Deficit | Why is it so?


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I was wondering recently, as I often do, about the stigma associated with mood disorders and mental illness. Why is it more acceptable to talk about 'it' in some domains and circumstances and not in others?

Is it easier for those struggling with some of the tougher challenges in life to open up about how their situation is affecting their mind or mental health status? I’m thinking about chronic or terminal illness, relationship breakdowns, bullying or harassment in the work place, loss of employment or a home burning down… Is there a more empathetic connection with those events that people find easier to accept? At least they can point to a “justifiable” reason for any mind health challenge that may result.

Whereas with mental illness, that same level of empathy seems to be missing, presumed missing having a good time elsewhere. I often reflect on what stories, values and beliefs people might hold that prevent their empathy from being offered to those with mental illness. One thing I can be sure of is that no-one that I know would knowingly withhold empathy from a person in mental distress on a conscious level. So, what exactly gets in the way?

Here are some personal thoughts on what can create an empathy deficit when it comes to mental illness:

  1. Preconceived values and beliefs about what having a mental illness means about a person.
  2. Being in denial about your own or a loved one’s mental illness.
  3. A lack of awareness or understanding of the causes of mental illness.
  4. Being unsure of how to handle your relationship with someone with mental illness.
  5. A busy life, that’s filled with personal, family and employment challenges.
  6. Being born in a generation that did not talk about mental illness, talk about private matters or that learnt how to be a whole different sort of resilient in a whole different time.

The list is not exhaustive by any means, yet they are the top six things that come to mind based on my experiences and open and comfortable conversations about mind health matters over the past three years. Over the coming months I’ll speak to them in more detail and perhaps go some way to helping more people understand their discomfort or reasons for not wanting to talk about mental illness and other mind health matters.

In the mean time I invite you to reflect on whether any of the above factors might be the cause of an empathy deficit for those living with mental illness by you or by others you know.

Why? Because your mind health matters.