Mental Illness – the ‘dis-ease’ that we are afraid to talk about…

Mental Illness – the ‘dis-ease’ that we are afraid to talk about…

This past week, an article in the WSJ caught my attention,

A Serious Illness or an Excuse_12-11-2011_WSJ

One of the statistics in the article mentioned, “At the University of Texas at Austin, 33% of the 1,687 students that registered with the disability services office during the spring 2011 semester listed psychological problems as their “primary” concern. In the spring of 2008, only 23% out of 1,175 did. (The increase was due, in part, to a procedural change that routed more students to the disability office.)” WSJ article December 13, 2011.

Wow! From 23% -33% in three years…are those statistics showing that there is more acceptance of mental illness? Is it showing that due to the pressures of the economic downfall people are having a more difficult time coping with the world around them and are seeking help? Do we believe it is a good thing we are addressing the concerns of the mental state of well-being in our society rather than to deny it exists?

What mental illness reminds me of is Leonardo de Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing. Leonardo de Vinci – and his pictorial description of the The Vitruvian Man (c. 1485) Accademia, Venice The Vitruvian Man is a world-renowned drawing created by Leonardo da Vinci circa 1487.[1] It is accompanied by notes based on the work of the famed architect, Vitruvius.

The drawing, which is in pen and ink on paper, depicts a male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man.

It is stored in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, Italy, and, like most works on paper, is displayed only occasionally.[2][3] What you see in the drawing is that there is precision in the physical body – and what could be the remaining parts to create the circle? As an example, Each person has a physical, mental, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual state, each of these states (parts) make up the ‘whole’ of the human being, When one of the states is not functioning optimally then we (as human) are out of balance; one state pulls the tension on the other state and body accommodates the circumference of the circle to become unbalanced. This unbalance could be temporary or could become constant state of being and become indefinite.

Therefore, can the human body become balanced? Yes, I would surmise like a ‘rubber-band’ the tension gets pulled on one of the ‘states’ and stretches that one state which affects the other parts of a state in well-being and sometimes the rubber band stretches in and out-of-balance. The human body can repair and mend an out- of- balance state and return to a state- in-balance provided that the out-of-body state is dealt with. As an example, when we break a bone in our physical body, we need to get the bone set – so that it can heal and relieve the body of the additional stress, i.e., such as other bones, muscles, tendons, and soft tissue that are currently providing support to the bone so it can heal. Once the bone heals, the supporting elements go back into balance.

The same thing could be true when we are out-of- balance due to the stressors in our life, and how we react to those stressors by changing or not changing our mental attitude to deal with the demands on our physical body, and our psychological well-being. Let me ask, if you saw an individual walking around with a broken arm bone dangling from their shoulder socket – would you think it would be strange if the person ever got the physical bone mended? How long would they walk around in pain, unable to use their physical arm before they sought help or that the arm finally mended in place – yet not performing at its optimal best?

Would you try to reach out to the person to help them get the bone fixed? How many of us would walk up to the person and not be afraid because it is obvious the person is in physical pain? Or would we walk away, mutter to ourselves – and say, “oh my, that chap has a problem…”

Why then do we not address the same concerns when the psychological health and mental well-being are out-of-balance?

We have seen so many TV shows in the past that help us see this, one recent example was played out for us in the CBS show, A Gifted Man. One of the episodes featured a man (husband, father) who worked as a chauffeur and his wife and child saw some radical behaviors being demonstrated by this man.

He was acting out in ways that they could not understand yet they could verbally express. As it turned out the man had a brain tumor which was pressing on part of the brain in the frontal lobe causing his thinking to go astray…and his behavior showed the symptoms. Once the tumor was repaired, eradicated, the man’s thinking returned to a balanced state.

This example shows what happens when a physical tumor is affecting our mental and psychological states of well-being. We as humans have such a hard time seeing that a mental or psychological concern may be due to a physical concern.

Or it could be that there is a symptom that is causing the mental snap, such as an internal issue, a lack of a vitamin, a hormonal imbalance in the pituitary gland, or an external stress from an abnormal demand taxing (causing stress) our ability to cope in the moment?

As another example, being in physical pain and not going to the doctors, or the intellectual stress required at exam time, or the success factors required in the workplace and the demands (stress) of the job requesting us to perform (past our balance point) to meet deadlines?

In another recent publication, The HR Daily Advisor, the article title is “The Delicate Dance of Addressing Mental Disabilities” Monday, December 12, 2011 3:00 AM by Steve Bruce Category: ADA “Many mental impairments are hard to spot and hard to diagnose, and employers tend to give mental impairments too much attention or too little, says attorney Audra Hamilton”.

See the article…in my opinion, the label, ‘Mental Disability’ is for legal protection and the laws to protect the company and the human? Is the title to help the human correct their in-balance? Is it truly a mental disability? Or is it a mental illness?

Are you mentally disabled to perform your job? Or are you mentally ill to perform your job? If you are physically ill, again such as a broken bone would you be considered disabled?

Why do we as humans have such a hard time looking at mental illness as something so ‘out-of-the-norm’ that we cannot face it or even help the person re-balance their life? Is the mental illness causing so many blockages to our ability to think (intellect) and to do (change a behavior) that the out-of-balance signal is not going off to help us re-balance?

Is it because we cannot see it ourselves physically? Is it because our society is afraid to deal with what mental illness is? What if others see our mental state, such that we may have a ‘mental-broken arm’ that is causing us distress?

Would we be able to hear or see the mental-broken arm and tend to mending it? When we are out of mental or psychological balance – we tend to create labels to address the concern and it ends up in a bucket known as mental illness or worse.

Once a label is created what happens to our intellectual mind? ‘Someone may say, ‘that human is cracked (mentally)’ – would they say the same if there was a physical impediment? ‘That human has a broken bone’… Mental and psychological illness can be equally as damaging to oneself as it can be to those people around us who are in re-lationship to us.

Think about having a broken-mental arm – would it be easier to tend to? When we have a physical broken arm, it is temporary, and we get it fixed the arm is whole again and we move on. In this instance, the person who suffered the most physical pain was the person with the broken arm, not all those people who are in re-lationship with that person.

In closing, can we treat the human-being as a whole, rather than a sum of its parts or as all of the parts of a whole? Foot note Source:Wikipedia The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described[4] by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture.

Leonardo’s drawing is traditionally named in honor of the architect. This image exemplifies the blend of art and science during the Renaissance and provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature.

Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”

According to Leonardo’s preview in the accompanying text, written in mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in Vitruvius.

The text is in two parts, above[a] and below[b] the image. The first paragraph of the upper part reports Vitruvius: “Vetruvio, architect, puts in his work on architecture that the measurements of man are in nature distributed in this manner, that is:

    • a palm is four fingers
    • a foot is four palms
    •  a cubit is six palms
    • four cubits make a man
    • a pace is four cubits
    • a man is 24 palms and these measurements are in his buildings

The second paragraph reads: “if you open your legs enough that your head is lowered by one-fourteenth of your height and raise your hands enough that your extended fingers touch the line of the top of your head, know that the centre of the extended limbs will be the navel, and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle”.

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About Linda Savanauskas

An accomplished talent management professional with experience in curriculum design, development of learning strategies, and professional skills development training programs for the workplace. Collaboration in training programs includes small and medium size businesses (SMB) to larger organizations from Raleigh to Charlotte, North Carolina. Virtual instructor led training can be offered to any location.