I went on a TV show here in Sydney the equivalent of Question Time called Q and A. They were discussing recent topics and I got landed with a particularly hardball. They asked if I thought in the light of the suicide plane crash did I think all pilots should be examined for mental illness?
That's a question that could bring the stigma right back into fashion to the point of burning us at the stake again. How many times can you remind people that it's one in four who have a mental disorder, that means if we prohibited everyone with a mental illness from working there would be empty floorboards in the boardrooms. Without getting pulled into the why's and wherefores of what happened, I tried to hammer home the point, yet again, that if there were substantial funds for brain research incidents like this might not happen.
More people have mental illness than every other disease combined and yet it's the least funded. Most of our social and physical problems emanate from the state of the Mothership; crime, drug abuse, mental illness, obesity, dementia, diabetes 2, certain cancers, the list is endless. If your kidney goes down you can still think clearly, if your brain goes down it can cause more catastrophes than any horror film can portray and yet still so little research. Even if you couldn't care less about mental illness, someday if you find yourself a victim of some crime, anything from being robbed to raped, to hearing about a pilot committing suicide, it's because the perpetrator probably wasn't treated for mental illness. A quote from the mental health organization, Sane, says, "If someone is treated with medication for mental illness they are no more dangerous or violent than any normal person in society."
I once heard a Dean at Oxford say that if Bill Gates had given the same amount of money he did for Malaria for brain research we'd probably already have a cure for depression and other mental illnesses. You can tell we're still in the grip of stigma because of the notion that something mental infers it's a result of an active imagination. As if someone got up one morning feeling a bit lazy and thought should I turn myself into a block of cement for a few months with a broken mind? Why isn't it a law that people understand that anything mental is physical.
You have a mental disorder because some neuronal connection or neurotransmitter is malfunctioning in the brain just like a cell malfunctions and becomes cancer. Rather than drive more shame and despair into those with a mental disorder is it too much to ask to concentrate on curing them?
I'm on tour in Australia and the UK until June 2015, talking about mental health, the brain and mindfulness in my Sane New World show.