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4 Reasons Mental Illness and Physical Illness Are Actually Super Different

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If someone who doesn’t take mental illness seriously starts talking about the differences between physical and mental health, they might actually be on to something. In some ways, mental and physical health aren’t the same at all!

Here are some of the major differences between mental health and physical health:

1. Where the blame goes. 

When part of someone’s body starts malfunctioning, we assume they need proper and sometimes immediate medical attention. We don’t often wonder or care what they did to “bring on” the flu or their broken leg.

But when something’s happening in someone’s brain, we often play a blame game.

I feel sad sometimes, but then I just do something I enjoy and it makes me feel better! Why can’t you just do the same?  

I hate when my room is messy, too. Why is that such a big deal to you

My mood swings don’t get so extreme. Why can’t you just calm down

This blame happens internally, too:

Why am I feeling panicky at this party? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just relax like everyone else

The reality is, mental illness can be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. Do you know what they’re not caused by? Bad attitudes, lack of will power or the inability to look on the “bright side.” No one get a mental illness because of something they did, and no one recovers from an illness by simply “trying harder.” That’s just not how it works.

2. Attitudes about seeking help.

While it seems like a no brainer to get help when you’re physically ill or injured, seeking treatment for a mental illness can be shrouded with guilt.

Can you imagine telling someone whose head is bleeding that they should “wait it out” Would you ever make them feel like getting treatment is “giving in?”

Not only is this attitude silly — it’s dangerous. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90 percent or more people who’ve died by suicide had a mental disorder at the time of their deaths. Often, these disorders had not been recognized, diagnosed or adequately treated.

The number one reason people either don’t seek or eventually drop out of treatment? Because they think they can “handle the problem on their own.”

We don’t expect physically sick people to cure themselves, and we shouldn’t ask the same for someone with a mental illness.

3. Insurance coverage. 

Since the passing of the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act, and the Affordable Care Act, mental health is supposed to be afforded the same coverage as physical health. But one-quarter of the health plans being sold on health insurance exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act don’t have equal benefits for general and mental health care.

Other types of insurance like travel insurance can still get away with not covering mental health. Cancel a trip because of a unexpected appendectomy? You’re most likely covered. Hospitalized for an unexpected episode of depression? You may be out of luck.

4. Ability to use as an excuse to get out of class/work. 

When you need a mental health day, are you more likely to tell your boss or teacher you’ve come down with a terrible stomach virus, or that you’re experiencing crippling anxiety?

That’s what we thought.

Originally published: November 13, 2015
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