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5 Mental Illnesses That People Constantly Misunderstand

by Richard C. - June 19 , 2017


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Photo Credit: by Peter Rimar
Photo Credit: by Peter Rimar

The subject of mental illness has been on a real journey in the last decade. It was not so long ago that when one heard the words ‘mental illness’, one would picture straightjackets and caricature visions of distressed people with wide eyes and wild hair, running barefoot down the street - ‘crazy’ people, for the want of a better word.

Now we live in a time when mental illness is better respected and understood; its sufferers face less discrimination and can get better help. But despite these advancements, a number of mental health conditions are still commonly misunderstood, either through misleading names or misrepresentation in the media.

Here we will look at five frequently misunderstood mental illnesses, looking at what people think they are, what they actually are and how they’re treated.

Schizophrenia

What people think it is

Schizophrenic is often an unfortunate byword for general ‘craziness’ and almost always linked to extreme violent behaviour. The phrase ‘going schizo’ is used in common parlance to refer to someone who is acting aggressively or violently. According to a 2008 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people think having schizophrenia means having multiple or split personalities. Undoubtedly this has been made worse by the illness’ representation in media, with violent antagonists in film and TV frequently portrayed with a mischaracterisation of the illness.

What it really is

Schizophrenia is a complex, severe, long-term mental illness, generally considered to be a type of psychosis that affects about 1% of the US population. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and altered behaviours. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia does not cause split personalities, and in fact involves a breakdown in thought, emotion and behaviour, leading to difficulties in perception and processing. Violent behaviour is not a characteristic of schizophrenia, and is typically only displayed through drug or alcohol misuse.

How it’s treated

If caught early, schizophrenia can be treated and managed successfully, allowing the sufferer to lead a happy and functioning life. There is no single test or signifier of schizophrenia, but if you or someone you know is suffering from any of the individual symptoms then go to your doctor immediately. Schizophrenia is a long-term illness and has to be managed rather than completely cured. If well-managed, it is possible to avoid relapsing into schizophrenic episodes.

Antipsychotic drugs are typically used in treating schizophrenia. The combination of drugs will be tailored to the patient’s needs, as there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Relapses are more likely if medication is taken irregularly, so it’s crucial that the plan is stuck to.

See Canadian Pharmacy World’s full list of Psychiatric Medication

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

What people think it is

When you hear about ADHD you might think of kids - often boys - not paying attention in class, running around, causing chaos and generally being a nuisance. It’s also thought by some that ADHD is just used as an excuse for acting out, that children are being allowed to misbehave, as opposed to having a genuine medical condition that requires attention. Not everyone believes in ADHD, and instead think it’s just laziness and a lack of discipline on the part of the parents or teachers.

What it really is

There are a number of issues to address with ADHD, the first being that it is not something that can be cured through discipline, nor can you simply put a child on Adderall and hope for the best. While it is true that inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors are symptoms of ADHD, simply possessing those traits doesn’t automatically mean someone has it. Additionally, though it is most often noticed as a child, ADHD doesn’t necessarily stop in childhood - some adults struggle with the condition too. But above all, genuine cases of ADHD are not simply excuses for behaviour, and treating an ADHD sufferer in this way can often exacerbate the problem.

How it’s treated

There is no cure for ADHD, but it can be managed through a combination of support, education, patience, and if necessary, medication. Stimulants are typically the type of drug prescribed for ADHD. Some of them - Adderall and Ritalin in particular - are very well known, however the drugs should be taken in tandem with support programmes, particularly through school for child sufferers.

See Canadian Pharmacy World’s full list of ADHD Medicine

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What people think it is

“I’m a bit OCD about having things organised” - a common refrain that all of us will have heard and some of us will no doubt have used. To a lot of people, having OCD means you have very particular ways of doing things, that you like things to be neat and in order, or they may have persistent habits like washing their hands. If things aren’t in their right place or if things aren’t just the way they like it, someone with OCD might get very annoyed or even angry at this, because they’re not getting their way.

What it really is

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a serious mental condition that can cause extreme levels of anxiety and emotional distress. The clue is in the name: it’s about obsession and compulsion. Obsessions are constant, intrusive thoughts that the sufferer constantly battles with. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that the sufferer feels they need to do in order to combat the obsessions. Though it’s true that some people with OCD have cleanliness rituals or particular habits about the way things are organised, these are neither the defining symptoms of OCD, nor are they enjoyed in the slightest by the sufferer.

How it’s treated

The most common and effective way of treating OCD is through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy helps patients break from their negative cycles of thought and behaviour, which when compounded can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. CBT helps break the issues down into smaller, more manageable parts. In combination with therapy, a particular type of antidepressant, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be prescribed. Some of these drugs include Citalopram (available from Canadian Pharmacy World from $0.37 per unit) and Escitalopram (available from Canadian Pharmacy World from $0.23 per unit).

Depression

What people think it is

Sadness. Some people think depression is just sadness, like when a family pet dies or something tragic happens in the news. Everyone knows what being sad feels like, and sometimes all you have to do is pull yourself up by your bootstraps, put on a happy face and then everything will be fine.

What it really is

It’s important to make the distinction between depression and being depressed. Depression is a clinical condition where sufferers experience long periods - weeks, even months - of extreme sadness. Symptoms of depression can include fatigue, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, disjointed sleeping patterns, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and in the worst cases suicidal thoughts. It is not something one can simply snap out of. It’s a real and frequently severe illness.

How it’s treated

Depression can be circumstantial, and a change in lifestyle can help bring about an improvement in a sufferer’s depression. Frequently sufferers are prescribed courses of antidepressant medication. It’s tricky to get the right balance of antidepressants, so patients and doctors will often have to experiment with different courses until one works for the sufferer. Therapy can help those with depression, either on its own for mild sufferers or in combination with courses of drugs.

See Canadian Pharmacy World’s full list of Antidepressant Medication

Bipolar disorder

What people think it is

Though it’s fairly well understood that bipolar disorder is a condition involving mood swings, to some people, it’s just another word for them and can be applied to anyone whose temperament can change quickly. People with bipolar disorder are sometimes thought to rapidly change their mood back and forth, from high to low in quick succession, and that they are incredibly happy during their highs.

What it really is

Bipolar disorder was formerly known as manic depression, and does indeed concern periods of mania and depression, but there are a number of misconceptions about these changes in mood. Firstly, a sufferer’s ‘manic’ periods are not always enjoyable; they are in an extremely heightened state, full of energy and extremely active, but some sufferers can find these periods to be very intense and even scary. It’s true that some sufferers can shift back and forth between depression and mania quickly, but it’s generally not the case for most people. Perhaps most importantly, bipolar is certainly not a byword for mood swings. The changes in mood that bipolar sufferers have are much more extreme, longer lasting and often detrimental to the individual’s life.

How it’s treated

Because bipolar disorder consists of two extreme moods - mania and depression - often patients will be given a combination of treatments to tackle both. This can include medication to help prevent periods of mania and depression, known as mood stabilisers, which are taken every day on a long-term basis. There is also medication to tackle mania and depression as and when the patient enters those periods. Lithium carbonate is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, available from Canadian Pharmacy World from $0.45 per unit.

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