A new study claims that nearly all of us will develop one mental illness or another, though it will be temporary for most.
This may be upsetting for some, since mental illnesses are still a taboo or at least an uncomfortable topic in many cultures. There's a misconception that once you develop a mental illness, you have it for life. Researchers say that this is untrue. It's true that a number of psychoses will be present for the remainder of a person's life, but many other illnesses are curable. Many mental illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated because of the stigma surrounding them, and people often experience difficulties in various aspects of their lives because of this.
Researchers also found that a small number of the population can live their entire lives without developing mental illnesses. They're not sure exactly how small this number is, but these people can give psychologists insight into what it is to be mentally well.
Previous surveys on the development of mental illnesses have asked respondents to remember how they felt and behaved months or even years before the surveys. However, it's well-known that human memory isn't the most accurate or dependable. Thus, researchers for this new study decided to closely monitor a generation of people in New Zealand from birth to midlife. The researchers checked in on the participants every few years to see if mental illness had developed over the preceding year.
According to the findings, over 80% of people develop mental illnesses at some point their lives. Researchers found that 17% of the participants didn't develop any mental illnesses, though the researchers themselves admit that the number may be smaller. It's possible that some of the participants had experienced psychological problems in between check-ins.
The researchers say that, based on their findings, people are more likely to develop mental illnesses than diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. However, the people who don't develop any mental problems over the course of their lives are also worth studying. By doing so, psychologists may learn how to help those with mental illnesses have better lives. If we learn what makes people mentally well, we may find the key to being mentally better.
What do mentally well people have in common? The first is little to no family history of mental illness, and the second is what researchers call “advantageous” personalities. People with these personalities tended to express fewer negative emotions, they got along better with others, and they had greater self-control. In most other respects, however, they were just your average Joes.
People with enduring mental health are like people who live to be over a hundred years old. They're there, but they're rare. Researchers say that we should treat mental illnesses much like physical illnesses—part of what it's like to be human. After all, imagine if we placed stigma on having broken bones or diseases. We'd be enduring unnecessary pain and a significantly lower quality of life. Thus, removing the stigma from mental illness leads to helping most of us live better lives.
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