We all have gut reactions to information. It’s the reaction when our stomach knots or tumbles, our breathing quickens or stops, our eyes light up or look down. It’s the reaction we have before realizing we’re having a reaction.
And gut reactions around mental illness can be powerful. The problem is, our gut reactions are so often wrong about mental illness and mental illness treatment.
Gut Reactions to Mental Illness Diagnosis
When someone gets diagnosed with a mental illness, one of two things happens. They think:
- Thank god! I finally understand what has been happening to me.
- You’re wrong. I’m not crazy.
This is particularly true of psychosis. I hear over and over again how people initially refused to tell anyone, even their doctor, about their psychotic symptoms because it made them “crazy.” True, psychotic symptoms are a break from reality, but they are just a symptom of an illness like depression or feeling worthless.
Gut Reactions to Mental Illness Treatment
One of the strongest gut reactions I ever had was to the word “antipsychotic,” as in antipsychotic medication. I had heard of antipsychotics for years before I ever agreed to take one, in large part because of that gut reaction. I was not psychotic. I was not crazy. I was not taking a pill that said I was.
And then of course there is the strongest gut reaction of them all – the gut reaction to “shock therapy,” (even if they do call it electroconvulsive therapy). The gut reaction to “electroconvulsive therapy” usually involves the concept of running from the room. (If guts could run; I swear they would.) Generally our gut goes right to the image of being electrocuted while being fully awake and strapped to a table. Our gut goes right to the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Gut Reactions are About Fear, Not Reality
Get reactions aren’t bad, in many ways they are good. They keep us alive. They keep us from doing stupid things. They warn us of danger before we can cognitively detect it. Gut reactions tell us who’s an enemy and who’s a friendly. Gut reactions do this better than we often can consciously.
But gut reactions are often just about fear. The gut goes right from the information to the feared scenario. And so often that feared scenario is wrong, especially for mental illness. Most people have no idea what the facts really are about mental illness. Our feared scenarios are mostly made up. We have created terrible, frightening fantasies for ourselves built from media and movies and third-hand stories. But we have to get past those to get better.
Because no matter what the word is, or what it implies, we need to look at that information with intellect and logic. Yes, electroconvulsive therapy is scary, but it’s not run-from-the-room scary it’s think-about-it-carefully scary. And there’s a big difference. But it’s a difference your gut isn’t able to distinguish.