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Letter to the Editor: a cure to mental illness

For the president of an organization that claims to adopt a holistic approach to mental health, Shawn Wallis is certainly oblivious to the biological components of many forms of mental illness. 

His article “A cure to mental illness” demonstrates a profound and potentially dangerous misunderstanding of the etiology of mental illness. While it is true that many mental illnesses are triggered or primarily shaped by environmental factors, others, like my bipolar disorder are often inherited genetically.

Like my bipolar disorder, many mental illnesses are chronic, which means, contrary to Wallis’ assertions, that there is no cure for them, and no amount of positivity or resilience will change that. I will never not be bipolar. My symptoms may subside from time to time. I will have periods of stability. But I will never be cured.

This is something I have come accept, along with the fact that I will likely require psychiatric medications for the rest of my life. Despite Wallis’ laughably over-simplistic descriptions of neurotransmitters and neural pathways, my brain will never function the same way as the brain of a person without bipolar disorder.

I could and do work to change my habits (which is sometimes difficult because one of the symptoms of bipolar mania is poor impulse control) as Wallis urges, and I could and do try to think optimistically (and sometimes I’m a little too optimistic because another symptom of bipolar mania is over-confidence) as Wallis says I should.

But without medication, I simply cannot manage to function as a responsible adult. Platitudes about positive thinking from people who clearly have no understanding of the wide array of experiences that fall under the category of “mental illness” do nothing for people like me, but make us feel like we aren’t trying hard enough.

Placing the source of and remedy to mental illness solely in the hands of those living with it is disingenuous, and frankly, it contributes to the stigma that Wallis claims to be so against so stolidly.

Implicit in this line of thinking is the idea that those who are unable to manage their mental health concerns are simply not trying hard enough.  It perpetuates the stereotype of mental illness as a moral failure on the part of the individual. Saying that “mental health…is how positive one is” blames the mentally ill for their illness.

What makes this article potentially dangerous is that Wallis, in his position as president of Trent Active Minds, has an air of authority, authority that he does not deserve. I have seen lives nearly ruined by well-meaning friends who have pressured others into going off of their medications.

By discounting the importance of neurological and psychopharmacological treatment for mental illness, Wallis does a great disservice to the community of students he purports to represent. Mental illness is more than anxiety and depression, though from this article you would not know that. Wallis’ experiences, while valid for him, are not representative of the vast array of mental illnesses that exist in the Trent community.

The tone of his article combined with his spurious position of authority strongly suggests otherwise, which could mislead vulnerable students to similarly discard possibly life-saving medical interventions, and despair that they must simply not be thinking positive enough.

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