Why do We Treat Physical Issues and Mental Issues so Differently

Many years ago, I broke my ankle. I was riding my horse, and I got thrown. I broke my ankle because of the way in which I landed.

I never for a moment thought it would be a sign of weakness to go to the ER. I never thought I should be able to deal with a broken ankle on my own. I never thought of having anyone but an orthopedic surgeon, anesthesiologist, and surgical nurses deal with my broken ankle; these are professionals who have spent many, many years learning and honing their skills. I never thought of checking on the Internet to see what some washed-up actress thought about broken ankles and the best way to deal with them.

No friend or family member thought it was a sign of weakness for me to seek professional help to set my ankle. No friend or family member thought I should be able to just deal with it and fix myself. No friend or family member was anything but supportive.

When you break a bone, you seek medical help. When friends or family members break a bone, you take them to the hospital; you help them get the help they need. You don’t suggest being tougher. You don’t suggest they will get better if only they want it badly enough. You don’t share opinions and weird ideas from completely untrained people who are selling useless products.

So why do we treat mental issues so much differently than physical issues?

If you think you have some kind of mental illness, it is not a sign of weakness to seek out professional help. You are not a failure because you admit you can’t deal with it on your own. It is not a matter of strength. It is not a matter of toughing it out and just dealing with it on your own. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, any more than having a broken bone makes you a bad person.

If you think your friend or family member may have a mental illness, see what resources are available in your area. Start by looking up NAMI chapters in your area or consulting with your county mental health agency. Your help may not be appreciated, but you wouldn’t think about leaving your friend with an untreated broken bone, and these organizations will help you understand how best to approach your friend with your concerns.

Of the combat veterans who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD, only half have sought out any kind of help at all. Yet 100% of the returning combat veterans with a serious physical issue seek out help.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. Do we treat it that way?

What would happen if we treated mental illness the same way we treat physical illness?

Why don’t we?