Serious Question: What Is Mental Illness?

May 24, 2013  |  

Source: CBS

Like many others, we watched Amanda Bynes appear in court this morning, tugging on her Halloweenish wig before she was whisked off to a psych ward. Immediately, the office, my co workers and I, started playing psychologist, talking about what could be going on with her, the child star we’d grown up watching on television. A couple of us were certain that what Amanda is going through right now is probably something mental. After all, Amanda Bynes had a very successful career back in the ‘90’s and was able to keep her composure for over a decade afterward.  Something had to have happened. My coworker and I speculated that Amanda was suffering from some type of mental illness.

But one of my coworkers couldn’t be certain. She questioned us, how do we know it’s mental illness? Aside from her family saying that she was bipolar and had stopped taking her medication, what evidence was there that she had suffered from some type of mental dysfunction.

I argued that the type of behavior she’s been exhibiting is consistent with someone whose thinking is off.

Then my co worker brought up a good point asking, if behavior like Amanda’s is due to a mental illness, how are we supposed to hold people accountable for their actions?

I argued that just because someone has a mental illness, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s carte blanche to behave any type of way. Somehow Chris Brown’s name came up in the situation and I said that based on the evidence in the way he attacked her, biting, punching, all while maintaining control of the car, blacked out in a rage, shows that he was out of his mind. Another co worker argued that because Chris had grown up seeing his mother being abused, his conditioning led him to believe that type of behavior was acceptable. I still say believing that behavior is appropriate is a form of mental illness. Not being able to control your anger is a mild form of mental illness.

And I don’t mean that because his mental state was altered, that he deserved to get off scott free.

Essentially, I was trying to argue that mental illness is not as uncommon or “other” like the media would make it seem. Any one of us could snap at any moment. Our brains our constantly receiving signals, reacting to hormones and processing information that will ultimately affect our behavior. An altered mental state doesn’t mean that we’re going to live in that state permanently. There are varying degrees of mental instability. And while someone who is depressed or schizophrenic or suffering from some form of dementia shouldn’t necessarily be held accountable for their actions, there are altered states of mind that we can control and should subsequently be willing to suffer the consequences.

But that’s just my opinion. The truth is the mind is still such a mystery that it’s all just theory at this point.

What does mental illness mean to you? When is it appropriate to hold someone responsible for their actions despite mental instability?

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  • Mental illness is REAL….it’s not a damn excuse….I think some people have worn it out but it’s still an issue we as people need to face daily….It isn’t black or white….just like AIDS or cancer mental illness can affect anybody….In some cultures mental illness is taboo….swept under the rug…..It isn’t until it hits home that it becomes a topic….If it were your loved one, would some of you commenting have the same bullish attitude????

  • smoothlilee09

    Someone with mental illness should be held accountable for their actions because they are made aware of what could happen if they dont take their meds, therefore, it is up to them to take them. if they dont and they do something crazy, then they should be held responsible because they didnt take the meds to keep them from doing that crazy act!

    • How can someone who is mentally unstable be aware of their actions….C’mon really….They should be monitored daily….If someone of sound mind is keeping them in check, then it’s safe to they are AWARE….but if the person is alone or not supervised and they SNAP uncontrolled…that’s different…I’m just coming to you from a personal standpoint….Can we agree that the person should be monitored or kept in a controlled environment then to be held accountable?

  • John Harris

    mental illness is an excuse that is usable by whites and can be only be used by whites to get their cases thrown out of court and get away with crimes.

  • Compassionate

    Mental Illness and Addiction are the ONLY two diseases where people are condemned, yelled at and judged. Mental Illness is a disease just as Cancer, Diabetes and/or Heart Disease. There is such a huge stigma attached to it. Due to a traumatic situation that occurred fourteen years ago, I have battled a diagnosis of Major Depression on and off. It’s bad enough to be a naturally loving, funny, caring and kind individual who battles a cloud of pessimistic darkness when bouts of depression occur. What makes depression appear to be hopeless for me is that I have complied with medication, attended therapeutic sessions, done the leg work, researched and to put it plain and simple, TRIED to overcome. However, the older I get, the more frequently bouts come. This can explain why I contemplate suicide so frequently. Not because I am selfish. BUT because I just want the pain to finally go away. I have raised an honorable young man completely alone but often times I truly believe that he would be better off without me. I have literally devoted my life to helping others as a educationally trained Social Worker but have been unsuccessful in adequately helping myself. I wish society cared to realize that Mental Illness could happen to anyone, at anytime. Mental Illness does not necessarily mean someone is “crazy.” I think it is important to be careful how we treat one another because you never know what could happen in life that could affect your mind.

    • rita

      Thank you for sharing your story. Maybe taking advantage of online forums or in person groups of people dealing with depression could help you not feel so isolated. Take care.

  • Renne Edwards

    Besides God, my therapist and psychiatrist w/meds…having family members and close friends that truly understands my illness and can show respect towards me…motivates me to manage my health. It’s a long road to a hopeful healing process.

    • Keep going strong you will OVERCOME, because CHRIST will help you….

  • ArcticCOOL

    If certain buttons are pushed, exposure to certain situations.. I believe everyone has a form of mental illness.

  • Excepcion

    Mental illness and the classifications of it and for it are not always an exact science as someone had previously mentioned, especially when we are seeing the extreme influence the pharmaceutical industry has in lobbying and advocating for new illnesses in the DSM based on the chemical properties of a medication, not the symptoms or actual illness of someone.

    In Amanda Bynes case, if the family is well aware that this young lady is suffering from Bipolar Disorder why not take the appropriate steps in conservatorship or having her commited ? This is ridiculous ! Im sure she knows her life is mess and doesnt want to be living like that ! Come on !

  • Rolly

    IMO mental illness is mental dysfunction that causes thoughts to trigger unhealthy emotions that affect the body & subsequently create an adverse action to the person or those around the person. I see this a lot with a family member. She gets caught up in repetitive negative thoughts, her countenance takes on a different forms, she spews out fragmented thoughts then accuses & becomes defensive. When trying to rationalize with her that at the moment nothing she is imagining is happening – she rages & accuses everyone of misunderstanding her. Because she suffered being a victim of a shooting crime 21 years ago – it’s apparent there has been long term affects. Also, she is convinced that everyone else is wrong, claims to understand better than anyone, denies there is anything wrong with her & has a need to prove she’s right all the time about everyone & everything – our entire family believes she’s has a mental illness. Could we all be wrong?

  • Anon

    I agree that Amanda Bynes maybe displaying some form of mental illness. She for one blames everyone else, denies there is a problem and makes excuses for her behavior. I however, disagree with the Chris Brown comment. Had he not accepted responsiblity then I would say ok red flag but he has and he constantly does. He acknowledges that his behavior was wrong. His behavior that night doesnt lead me to believe he is mentally ill especially since he hasn’t done anything else of that nature since that time and he does acknowledge he was wrong. I know someone who is severly bipolar and abusive and they make excuses for their abuse and it is scary. And this person doesn’t think that they ever did anything wrong. I think he just did a dumb thing and should have walked away but was probably caught up in the moment. He is not mentally ill stupid but not mentally ill. And If he in fact did witness abuse growing up then that would explain his violent behavior. You see your father beat your mother so you grow to think it is ok. Statistics show that those who withess it are more likely to do it. But mental illness comes in so many different forms that it is hard to say what is what. And that is what is so scary about it.

  • IllyPhilly

    Mental illness very rampant in the Black community and I am honestly happy Black people are finally taking time to see it in a serious manner. For those that thins it’s all in our heads well it is. The brain is still a complex mystery, some folks forget that. Comprehension of life is very different for all of us.

  • Atin

    I highly doubt if Chris Brown has a mental illness. He just have issues. We all portray some symptoms of mental illness, but that doesn’t mean we have a mental illness. For example, sometimes I’m extremely happy and other times I’m extremely sad or mad. But that doesn’t make me bipolar, because my actions aren’t extreme and it doesn’t interfere with my everyday life (and plus there’s more to bipolar disorder than most people know). It becomes an illness when those symptoms and behavior interferes with your everyday life and affect the people around you.

  • AncientSpiritNewDay

    I didn’t even know all of this was going on with Amanda Bynes, I am quite surprised for some reason. I know it isn’t funny but every time I look at her in that wig, I just want to laugh.

    • TRUTH IS

      Heavy mind control in the industry. Don’t you see a pattern……

      • Toy

        Exactly. She’s just like Britney Spears. Same age, same actions.

  • EasyRider

    This blog demonstrates why mental health care and awareness is so fractured in America. There are no clear cut lines with regards to mental health and there is a stigma attached to mental illness.

    Mental illness cannot be a “catch-all” for abnormal behaviors which is why mental health care professionals could probably answer the questions posed by the writer of this opinion piece. Temporary mental instability can be just that, temporary or it can be ongoing, prompting the need for medical evaluation and treatment.

    Mental illness may not manifest until later in life, making diagnosis difficult, especially with adults. Adults, by virtue of being adults, can refuse any type of interventions and/or treatment unless they show an imminent danger to themselves or others. That can be hard on not only the person, but to that person’s family and loved ones who cannot lead them to the water to drink, so to speak.

    In Amanda Bynes’ case, why can’t the fact that she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a fact that can likely be documented, coupled with the fact that her family said she is not taking her medicine be enough evidence for mental illness?

    Kudos to those who are willing to seek appropriate health and to maintain whatever treatments available and those who wish to help those with mental illness, temporary or otherwise.

    • hollyw

      I feel the same exact way, and I work w/ children w/ mental illnesses. The author’s friend was like, aside from a diagnosis from a mental health professional and subscribed medication, how can we be sure?? Uh, what..?

    • IllyPhilly

      Thank you!

      • OhForTheDay

        I’m so embarassed for some of these authors who consider their blogs/ramblings to be Journalism.

  • hollyw

    I def disagree w/ the author’s presumption that every misbehavior is a “mild form of mental illness” and that the mind is such a mystery, that “it’s all just theory at this point”. Psychology and neurology are extremely reputable sciences that have been around and evolved for centuries now. Also, normalizing Chris Brown’s behavior..? Com’on, son…

    As @laughtriot88:disqus said, the line between accountable and not is the refusal to take time-tested medication for a chemical imbalance after you’ve already met the criteria for it. Mind you, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression is not the same as thinking it’s ‘not so bad’ to abuse your gf b/c your father did it. Just b/c you re-enact domestic violence or try to harm yourself doesn’t mean you have PTSD or Major Depression; some folks just make bad decisions based on their situations in life at the time.

    This is why a defendant cannot plead temp. insanity, extreme emotional disturbance, or mental incompetency w/o undergoing a test by a court-appt’d professional, rather than leaving it up to the masses or themselves…


    Any Wrongmindedness….

  • LaughtRiot88

    This article really hits home for me. A little over a week ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which was no surprise to me considering my mother has it and it can be hereditary. I understand that someone can completely lose it and do something regrettable. My opinion is if you know you have mental illness, adhere to your doctor’s instruction. I don’t like the medication, it fogs my mind but it’ll prevent me from hurting myself or others, it must be taken. So, I’m saying, if you don’t know you have this issue and you commit some type of crime, that’s unfortunate, but at least now help can be administered. If you know you have this and you aren’t doing what you need to do and you commit a crime, then it’s on you.

    Now, I don’t know how I’ll feel about this later, as I get older and usually this condition worsens with age, but for now, being newly diagnosed, that’s my opinion.

    • hollyw

      Thank you for sharing your story. You’re not alone.

      • LaughtRiot88

        Thank You.

    • OhForTheDay

      You’ll be okay as long as you maintain this positive approach. I wish the author of this article had provided official medical references so that the readers could be more informed – vs. her (said) OPINION. For a matter such as this…we need more than uneducated $0.02….dontcha think?