Mental Illness 101

This morning as I was skimming Facebook,  a friend of mine had posted a picture of a crazy looking animal with the sentiment, “It’s a beautiful day, I think I’ll skip my meds and stir things up a bit.”  It was a cute picture and it probably led to some hearty chuckles.  This kind of humor is funny.  It’s popular.  And it is a big part of our culture.  But for people who live with mental illness or love someone who is mentally ill, the sarcasm isn’t funny at all.  In fact, it’s painful.

As I felt the blood begin to stir in my veins, hurt and anger rising, God reminded me that most people simply do not understand the implications of their words and their humor.  My friend did not mean any harm by the post and therefore, I did not need to feel so angry.  Instead, what became clear was the need for education. We used to call people “retarded” but that term is now frowned upon deeply.  We used to call people “crippled” but now that term is considered derogatory as well.  Through education and awareness, positive changes have been made to help people with disabilities.  We still have a long way to go, but we have made progress.  Now it’s time to educate and make progress with the issue of mental illness.

So welcome to class!  You have officially entered Mental Illness 101.  The following twelve tips and interesting facts will lead you to more knowledge, better awareness, and the ability to help bring a positive change to our world.

Facts About Mental Illness:

1. Mental illness is real.  It is a sickness of the brain just as heart disease is the sickness of the heart or asthma is a disease of the lungs.  It is not the fault of the individual and it is not a result of bad parenting.  It is an illness.

2. The brain is a five pound organ.  It is an organ like the heart, the liver, the lungs, the kidneys, or the spleen.  The brain controls all of  the functions of the body as well as our behaviors.  When the brain is sick, it affects the individual, the family, and every part of the person’s life.

3.  One out of  Four Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. Think about that; one out of four.  Look around your life.  That’s a lot of people!

4.  Mental illness is different than Autism.  While there are many similarities, they are not the same.

5. Most forms of mental illness are easily controlled with medication.  Some of the forms of mental illness include Anxiety, ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, (OCD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Schizophrenia.

6. Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Severe Depression are the most difficult forms of mental illness to treat.

7.  Five percent of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are severely mentally ill (SMI).  Those individuals often require inpatient hospitalizations, or residential treatment, and they often end up in jail.  Many individuals commit suicide.

8.  The problem with humor like the Facebook post this morning is that people with mental illness MUST take their medication.  We would never dream of joking about a heart patient not taking their meds.  We would never tease someone about chemotherapy for cancer.  We would never laugh at a person who needed an inhaler for asthma.  Psychiatric medication is NOT A JOKE!  In many cases it can be a matter of life and death.

9. How can you help?  Educate yourself and then start sharing your knowledge with others.  Talk about mental illness openly and with compassion, the same way you would if a friend or loved one had cancer.  Be kind.

10. Please don’t call our loved ones words like “crazy”, “psycho”, “evil”, or “monster”.  People who are mentally ill don’t want to be sick.  They don’t mean to do the things they do and they often feel isolated, guilty, and ashamed.  Help them by accepting them, “normalizing” their illness, and treating them with kindness.  Care for their family members too.

11.  Don’t let the illness define the person.  Instead of saying “that person is schizophrenic”, say “that person HAS schizophrenia”.

12.  Pray for those who suffer from this horrific affliction.  They (and their families) need your prayers the same way a cancer patient or anyone living with a serious illness needs prayer.

Finally, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”  Romans 12:9-13 (NIV)

Thank you for joining this session of Mental Illness 101.  It was a joy to have you in class!  Now Go Love One Another and Go Change The World!

Blessings to you,


*Most facts provided by NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) 

For more information about mental illness go to 

For information about mental illness laws and services go to