Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Who is in denial?
Most people think of the “mentally disordered” as a delusional lot, holding bizarre and irrational ideas about themselves and the world around them. Isn’t a mental disorder, after all, a distortion in thought or perception? At least, that’s what we tend to think, and many would agree that realistic thinking are considered essential to good mental health.
Ok, example, as an average individual I may hold cognitive biases in certain key areas like: a) viewing myself in unrealistically positive terms; b) believing I have more control over my environment than I actually do; and c) holding views about the future that are more positive than the evidence can justify. As a typical person, I depend on these happy delusions for my self-esteem to function through a normal day.
So where does the difference lies?
Actually depressed individuals have more realistic perceptions of their own image, importance, and abilities than the average person. While it is generally accepted that depressed people are negatively biased in their interpretation of events and information, depressive attitude only suggests that they are often merely responding rationally to realities that we, the average person cheerfully denies.
These people with paranoid disorders can sometimes possess a certain unusual insight and in their every delusional system, there exists a core of truth—and in their pursuit of imagined conspiracies against them, they often show an exceptionally keen eye for the real thing. It's funny how those who may have interacted with them are taken aback as they find themselves accused of harboring some negative opinion of the person which, secretly, they actually do hold.
So how does one convince a depressed person that “everything is all right” when her life really does suck? How does one convince an obsessive-compulsive patient to stop religiously washing his hands when the truth of what gets left behind after “normal” washing should be enough to make any sane person cringed with horror?
But what do we do? We teach them to develop irrational patterns of thinking. Patterns that would help them view the world as a rosier place than it really is. Yes it may be counter to their belief, but it can be justified because what defines a mental disorder is not unreasonable or illogical thought, but abnormal behavior that can cause significant distress and impairs normal functioning in society. To treat them is to restore them to a level of normal functioning and satisfaction, even if it means building perception that are not precisely “rational” or “realistic.”
Yes, we “normal” individual think it is easier to think of the mentally disorder as lunatics running about with bizarre, inexplicable beliefs than to imagine them coping with a piece of reality that we can’t handle. It is us, who routinely hide from the truth about ourselves and our world because we thought it may help to explain the human tendency to ostracize the abnormal. It is because we have grown dependent on our comfortable delusions, because we can not handle the harsh cold of reality.