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The Invisibility of Mental Illness

Updated: Mar 26

By William Lynes.

While the mental illness patient is afflicted by very real and painful feelings, these feelings are not visible to others. The indications of the condition then, whether those of depression, anxiety, or even schizophrenia, can be said to be invisible to observers, family, doctors, etc., in fact, to everyone other than an individual sufferer of mental illness.

A constellation of signs and symptoms is often used to describe a clinical condition such as mental illness. These terms, while often used interchangeably, are very different.

  1. A sign is measurable, something that an observer can see or measure. Signs differ from symptoms in that they are seen and confirmed by the clinician. Examples of signs include fever, pallor, heart rate, and blood pressure.

  2. A symptom is something that is described by the patient and includes, among others, anxiety, depression, pain, and others. Symptoms can not be seen or measured by the observer but rather must be related to others.

The sufferer of mental illness is aware that everyone around him cannot see his suffering. This invisibility often leads to a feeling that others do not believe they are suffering. Their feeling about the beliefs of others is a distortion of fact. A malinger falsifies their symptoms to gain some benefit. Most people do not believe that the sufferer of mental illness is a phony, but rather do not understand the nature of their symptoms.

Sufferers of mental illness often believe that others feel they have control of their symptoms, only having to decide not to be, for example, depressed. While they themselves suffer the symptoms of mental illness, they often have the feeling that they should be able to control them. Depending upon their experience, the observer of the mental illness sufferer believes that the patient can decide to some extent not to feel the symptoms. Others feel that the mental illness sufferer is somehow to blame for their suffering.

When observing someone with mental illness, the examiner does not see signs referable to the condition. Information concerning the patient’s clinical condition consists of symptoms and must be related to the clinician. There are no true signs of mental illness, but rather feelings and conditions that are inside and hence invisible to everyone else. This invisibility often leads to feelings of isolation and the destructive feeling that their suffering is by the fault of themselves.

Posted 1st March 2007 by SPages

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