EMBRACING THE GIFT OF MENTAL ILLNESS

By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail

There was a time I was ashamed to mention that my father had a nervous breakdown and had to go to a mental hospital in Pakistan to get shock treatment.

There was a time I felt embarrassed to share that I was born in a family that was affected by mental illness.

I remember my mother saying to me one evening, “ I should not have married your father. People told me that I was being married into a ‘crazy’ family”. Since their marriage was arranged by friends and relatives, my mother felt she had no control or choice who she married and at some level deeply resented it.

I remember the time when I found out that mental illness was hereditary and I decided never to have children as I did not want to pass on the illness from my father to my children.

Now that I look at my past life I realize that over the years I have come to the profound realization that the mental illness that I considered a curse gradually transformed into a blessing and I began to perceive it as a gift. Now I believe that embracing the gift of mental illness in my family has made me a better person and a compassionate psychotherapist. It helped me develop a special sensitivity to the needs of people suffering from emotional problems and the struggles of their families. It inspired me to become a psychiatrist to understand the mysteries of mental illness and develop a humanistic philosophy towards people with emotional problems.

          Now I feel that it is sad and tragic that even in the twenty first century people with mental illness are penalized and persecuted and have to face stigma because of social ignorance and prejudice.

I think the time has come for all of us to have an open and honest dialogue about mental illness so that we can view it similar to physical illness.

I think the time has come for us to share our stories with others so that it is no longer a taboo to talk about it.

I think the time has come to get rid of the myths that mentally ill people are violent and stupid and have weak characters.

And I think the time has come to develop a scientific, rational and humanistic attitude towards mental illness.

When would we recognize that most people suffering from mental illness are caring friends, colleagues and relatives. They are peace-loving citizens of the community and contribute to the society in their own unique and meaningful way.

          I believe the maturity of a community can be determined by how people with mental illness are treated in that community. I hope we see a day when they are treated with respect and looked after in a caring way.

           Now I am inspired to share my story about my encounters with mental illness in my personal and professional lives hoping that it would encourage others to share their stories. There is no doubt in my mind that my embracing the gift of mental illness helped me become a caring and creative person and a compassionate therapist.         

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