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The Line Between Sanity and Insanity

June 08
16:14 2019

By: Dr. Abigail Joseph

I remember visiting Belize City regularly with my parents when I was younger. City trips as a kid was always a highlight. I grew up in Belmopan all my life so Belize City was totally different. It was busy, noisy and everything moved at a much faster pace than what I was used to. I remember the bustle of Albert Street and Battlefield Park with trees and benches which were often times occupied by the homeless and “challenged.”

Belizeans would say “crazy” but we live in a world where it is no longer ethical to use that term when referring to people that are unstable. Today we still see the remnants of that era. The park has changed but the people that were in need back then are still very much needy today. We walk pass them and ignore them mainly because they smell bad and their clothes and hair are unkempt. We go about our daily lives giving little regard to their needs or even considering the fact that they are in need of help. Society grooms us in a way that we think of them as hopeless, helpless and a waste. Maybe sometimes we dig in the depths of our pockets to give them the least we can for fear that they will use the money to buy more drugs instead of the bread they claimed they wanted to buy. We give not out of compassion but rather just because we can and even though we can, our giving is pitiful.

I have watched people throw coins, spit and even say hurtful words at the helpless and homeless in the streets. We feel as if we are “better” so that makes it ok to hurl thoughtless words at the less fortunate. Some of us ask them to do favors like singing and dancing and other not so nice things that can be seen in the form of pregnancy at times. We video them and make a mockery of them because we “can” and because society makes it ok to do so. We use them for our entertainment with very little regard to them as fellow human beings or as a patient in need of treatment for a mental illness.

It is interesting that when we think about mental instability our minds takes us to the image of the homeless or the beggars in the streets. Our minds are trained to associate mental illness with the word “crazy” and we imagine someone dirty and “wild” in the eyes. Be honest – that’s what you think. It’s interesting to see how we don’t even have to think hard to use that description. It comes naturally.

But what about persons that consume high amounts of alcohol weekly, a person who slits his or her wrist in an effort to end their life, a person who commits premeditated murder, a person who plans his or her own suicide, persons trapped in a domestic cycle, a mother who constantly tells her child that he is worthless or stupid, a person who starves his or her self to get the perfect body?….the list goes on and on.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness as a wide range of mental health conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking and behavior. This means that when there is a problem in the brain – whether it is due to trauma, drugs, stress or difficult situations in life we become affected, having abnormal thoughts, changes in perception, behavior, emotions and our relationship with others. Life is filled with ups and downs and not all of us are designed to withstand the same degrees of stress or to endure the emotional struggles that come with the package. Sometimes when we are caught in a stressful situation it is not uncommon to say – “you are driving me crazy!” or “I feel like I’m losing my mind!” but are we really?? How can you be sure?

Many times in my practice I would talk to my patients to get a feel of what is going on at home. As doctors, we are thought to see people and not diseases. Oftentimes if you take the time to understand a person as a whole, you get a better understanding of why they behave a certain way or keep doing the things that you distinctly told them not to. When I observe the levels of stress affecting my patient’s blood pressure, or understand that the reason a young lady tried to take her own life was because she was raped, or realize that the reason a child has a speech disorder is because his or her father is abusive at home – It becomes clear that Mental Health is an important aspect of care. When I detect these glitches, I automatically and without hesitation suggest a psychiatric evaluation. BUT because society has already groomed you to picture a wild “crazy” person as the “type” of people that make trips to the psychiatric unit, we become defensive and ultimately don’t attend the suggested consult.

A healthy life cannot be sustained only by maintaining a healthy body but also through having a healthy mind. If it were up to me, I’d say from the looks of things we are all low key mentally ill – the hurtful words we say, the thoughtless things we do, the senseless killings and political wars! Our minds are crying for help and we are in so deep we are unable to comprehend. There is no sure way of preventing mental illnesses; because the truth is some are genetic, others are just circumstantial. It happens. With this in mind, let us not be too quick to judge those that are lying in the streets, parks or begging in front of the store. Yes, it is true that sometimes they are addicts and they probably want money for more drugs but a kick or a mean word is just adding fuel to an already sick mind.

Addiction is a mental illness. Sometimes we look at the homeless and scan them from head to toe, skinning up our lips and flaring our noses due to the stench. Sometimes they are people we knew, your grandparent would tell you of how much of a respectable person he or she was, but circumstances changed and they were unable to fight the trials of life and ended up losing everything. Life is fragile and we do not have control over everything, but we can control what we feed and fuel our minds. Start by realizing our actions have consequences and many times the things we say and do can affect a person’s mental status and over time can tear away at the integrity of what once was a healthy mind. After tragedy happens, we ask ourselves what made that person crack? People do not just crack. The strain of life and accumulated stressors weigh down on a person and eventually push them to their limit. There is a fine line between sanity and insanity.

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