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Mental Illness or Human Suffering?

In recent years, we are becoming more acceptant of labels belonging to the medical professions in our everyday life. For example, mental illness, bipolar, depression. Some of these terms are increasingly used to identify human states of mind and mood that might have been considered in the past as a normal part of human suffering. So how do we know when we are mentally ill or just suffering as humans?

Human suffering is usually a temporary condition, whereas mental illness can be more permanent. If someone close to you dies, it is normal to feel sad. But if you continue feeling sad years after it happened, you may be struggling with something more serious, like a depression. However, there is a very fine line between these two concepts because if you believe that you are mentally ill, or depressed, then you will be. Society might influence your own judgement and your doctor’s or counsellor’s judgement regarding whether you are effectively ill or just suffering as a human being.

As Summerfield states in Cross cultural perspectives on the medicalisation of human suffering, “the attitudes of wider society (which may change over time) shape what individual victims feel has been done to them and the vocabulary they use to describe this, whether or how they seek help, and their expectations of recovery.” If the wider society believes that a traumatised person must be carrying a heavy load that will impact negatively on their future life, that person will be prone to carry such a load and feel that negative impact. That would prevent them from seeing the other side of trauma, which normally brings growth and a deeper appreciation of life.

Many of the people that I work with are suffering due to the heavy load of living in an individualistic society that tends to label them and does not leave room for their human suffering and recovery. In some cultures, there are no words for depression. A person is part of a group, and the group will help and accept what is happening to the person. This person does not feel stigmatised and isolated, and eventually moves on. There is no stigma as suffering is considered a human characteristic dealt with in a community of human beings. In our society, there seems to be an expectation to be independent and happy. In such a society, is there a place for human suffering? Are we able to ask for help to family and friends? Are we too quick to label human suffering as mental illness, as something that needs fixing?

I wonder whether we need more communities to accompany each other in this journey that is our life and especially when we experience human suffering. I wonder whether we can accompany another person and let another person accompany us when our life seems like a challenge. In my opinion, counselling is a journey in which one person feels accompanied by a professional who is able to accept and understand human suffering. This acceptance and understanding makes the “sufferer” accept and understand his or her predicament and transform his or her life. Counselling is also a tool to help the “sufferer” learn how to find resources within themselves and in their communities so that when further suffering occurs, they would know how to cope with it.


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10 Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a common condition that affects people who have experienced a traumatic event, have witnessed a traumatic event or have heard about a loved one experiencing such an event. The symptoms of PTSD may start after the event or months or years after the event has passed. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD.

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If you are looking for help for PTSD, you may recognise some of these symptoms. Because your autonomous nervous system is hyperaroused, you often experience the bodily symptoms usually triggered by a dangerous situation. But the danger is no longer there. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Cold sweat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heart palpitations

When some of these symptoms become chronic, they can result in:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you remember the traumatic event (or being told or witnessed it), you may also have the following symptoms:

  • Flashbacks (or nightmares)
  • Avoiding situations reminding you of the event

You may or may not develop all of these symptoms. If you are in doubt whether you have PTSD, consult your GP or contact a qualified psychotherapist.

Meditation

If you have PTSD, your nervous system is hyperaroused due to your previous experience. You can look for help for PTSD in a relaxation, meditation or mindfulness regular class (yoga, tai chi, qi gong). This will help your nervous system calm down. Additionally, look for help for PTSD with a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist to find out what triggered your PTSD and start processing your trauma.