No one is free from the possibility of acquiring or having a mental illness regardless of gender, age, race, culture, religion, or even economic status, and the like. We are all human and we all have the possibility of suffering from these illnesses. It’s just a matter of “When” and “How.”
Here in the Philippines, the recognition of mental health as a basic human right finally came to pass after the Philippine Mental Health Law or the RA 11036 was signed. It was actually a pending bill for almost 2 decades before it was approved into law on June 21, 2018.
It has been two years since it was signed. We can say that we still have a long way to go in order to address the issues and concerns that revolve around mental health. Issues (about mental health) not only here in the Philippines, but also around the globe. Two of those many issues worldwide include: “Are mental illnesses a disease of the mind or the brain?” and of course, the “Social Stigma.” In relation to that, there are many articles that tackle about the latter yet few on the former.
The article entitled “Are Mental Illnesses Really Brain Diseases?” written by Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, (a well-known author of the novels, A Hero Grows in Brookly, Fights in the Streets, Tears in the Sand, and Love, Sex and Respect) revolve around an argument whether mental disorders can be considered as brain diseases or not. The article is sensible in a way that it touches several issues regarding mental illnesses (social stigma, “mind or body concept,” etc.) not just here in the Philippines, but also worldwide.
Dr. Rubin on this article actually debunked the idea that mental illnesses are brain diseases. But what’s the importance of knowing whether these illnesses are brain diseases or not? Why is it important to know? Will it help those people suffering from these mental illnesses?
Dr. Rubin explained the idea of one of the most renowned doctors in the field of psychiatry and neuroscience, Dr. Eric Kandel, MD, who believed that the experiences that doctors refer to as mental illnesses are brain diseases. With his sophisticated suppositions, it clearly says that mental illnesses are actually considered as brain disorders just like pneumonia or cancer. Moreover, he believed that all the workings of the mind are brain processes and therefore, all disorders of mental functioning can be considered as physical disorders, as well.
In relation to mental health stigma, some experts believed that if our society will regard mental disorders as biological diseases just like any other physical disorders, the mental health stigma would lessen.
However, equating a mental illness to a biological or physical disease to lessen the stigma would be hard to justify for now. First, saying that “Seeing it as a brain disorder destigmatizes it immediately” actually fuels a lot more stigma. It’s like we are the one who stigmatizes those people who suffer from those mental illnesses because we already have that judgement “to lessen it.” I mean, why focus on that?
It’s difficult to find an objective confirmations when it comes to mental illnesses, like those can be seen in x-ray, CT scan, etc. Though there are some evidences that show that those people who suffers from mental illness like a person who suffers from depression has a different brain activities compared to a normal person that can be seen using MRI or other medical techniques to see the workings of the brain, it is still not enough especially if this will be the sole basis for saying that mental illnesses are physical disorders.
We still need to find more objective evidences to prove that mental illnesses are brain disorders to be able to have a better understanding on mental health. In addition, if we want to lessen the mental health stigma in our community, why wait for an answer as to whether mental illnesses are physical diseases or not? If that is what we are waiting to solve the social stigma regarding mental disorders, then maybe we would be waiting for the rest of our lives.
Again, it is too early to say that mental illnesses are diseases of the brain because it still lacks of objective evidences to support. We still have a long way to go before finding or arriving at the right conclusion. But for now, what’s more important is to educate people about mental illnesses or mental health to lessen the stigma. Stigma is only and will only be present to those people who are not well-versed with a certain issue. So what we need to do is to educate them, or perhaps, educate ourselves first.