Reduced to clinical psychology, but placed on a rampart apart from the rest of society, the mentally ill are at the same time feared, cherished, disenfranchised, and confusingly misidentified. Without a doubt the effects of society on those who are mentally ill are telling. Beyond the opioid epidemic, the crisis of substance abuse continues to proliferate to young people and those who are already well into adulthood. One of the main markers of a diagnosis, substance abuse comes in second behind genetics as a cause of illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, and depression.
But given a diagnosis, a person’s life prospects are immediately abridged. No longer can they live a normal life because the stigma of an illness can block access to education, jobs, health benefits, and social capital. Indeed, stigma is one of the primary problems a mentally ill person faces today. Because of stigma, a person can be afraid to reach out the the social support systems which are crucial to recovery. As the determiner of our actions, our speech, and our disposition, our mind’s health is crucial for social functioning. And in turn it depends on it. Therefore, leaving those with a diagnosis without community, care, and social supports can exacerbate symptoms, and lead to negative outcomes.
Without realizing it, our youth are increasingly putting themselves at risk of cognitive disabilities by engaging in risky behaviors including the use of alcohol and drugs. Combined with an escalation in the gateway of social media, and heightened peer pressure, many young people are finding themselves in the midst of a mental health crisis that affects not just themselves, but their peers as well. Often taken to be self inflicted, all to often the blame for the development of a mental illness is placed on the individual who is sick. While this view is widespread, it is inherently wrong. Let me explain why.
There is a difference in a choice to engage in risky behaviors and a compulsion to. While these types of behaviors can lead to the development of a mental illness, they are not always chosen by an individual’s free will. Indeed many people who use substances are addicted, and hence even if they want to stop use of the drug, have no choice but to continue. And like a cigarette, the choice to begin using marijuana, alcohol, or heroin, can lead to addiction, removing the choice that the user has whether or not to continue use of the drug. Psychologically, the choice to begin use of a drug may not be a choice at all, depending on the circumstances a person is in.
For instance, in a clear example of a gateway to increased dependence, the prescription of opioid painkillers can lead to addiction and dependence on other drugs similarly derived but sometimes cheaper to acquire, such as heroin. The effects of this on the question of free will and choice, are clear. In many instances one does not have a choice but to continue use of a drug that they are addicted to. Coincidentally, this is reflective of the seeming stigma of genetically inherited susceptibility of mental illness. A person does not have a choice of who they inherit their genes from, and so cannot have a choice in any genetically predetermined traits that they may exhibit in life.