Most of us tend to look at people who are mentally sick, with scorn and derision. We scoff at their actions and somehow blame them for their condition. I think our outlooks, as a society, toward gays and mentally ill people bear certain similarities. Both classes elicit little respect from us, but instead disgust and repulsion.
I think this situation is despicable and we need to improve it without wasting any time.
There are many forms of mental sickness and I am no expert on them. Some are present in the patient from the time of birth itself, while others develop due to certain external as well as internal conditions that the patient is subjected to. But in all cases, it is imperative for us to realize, that the patient is not responsible for being that way. Quite like a physical illness, mental sickness is something that descends on a person without them having any control over it. They do not choose to bring it upon themselves. It isn't something that anyone would want anyways.
So one of the most important things for us to realize is that we cannot blame someone for being mentally ill any more than we can blame someone for catching a cold.
For many of us, mental illness is an alien phenomenon. We view it with a cold, detached sense of apathy. Things change drastically when someone we know and love comes down with some form of mental sickness. Suddenly the matter takes on a whole new hue. It has a personal feel to it now.
What would you do in such a situation? Would you continue to be apathetic? I should think not.
Human beings are social animals. We all feel the need to be loved and cared for by someone. Someone with a mental illness feels this need even more urgently. For him it is crucial. Indeed, it is not unheard of, for the lack of this very affection to have been one of the factors leading to the onset of the illness in the first place. And it is often the best remedy that can be prescribed in such a situation.
Not all mental illnesses are curable. Some are temporarily curable, but one is never quite certain that the patient will not suffer a relapse into insanity again in the future. Of course, there are some mental illnesses for which science and medicine can, at present at least, do nothing. These are mostly congenital disorders of the brain, although they may only noticeable when the child is a few years old. Autism would be an example of such an illness.
Diseases which develop later on in life, like schizophrenia, paranoia or manic depression, are mostly curable, but only to a certain degree. Psychiatric treatment is normally prescribed in such cases and the patient is committed to an asylum or sanatorium for a period of a few months to a couple of years. Such patients normally never completely recover and end up living the rest of their lives as hollow shells of the individuals that they were before the illness struck.
Mental illness is often associated with genius. There is a certain amount of truth in this association. Genius, I feel, is by definition, flawed. And the brighter the genius, the deeper the flaw. Many great minds from the recent past have suffered from some sort of mental illness or the other. I say 'recent' past, because prior to the last couple of centuries mental illness was not understood properly and cases were consequently not well recorded. Two good examples from the last century would be the mathematician John Nash and the logician Kurt Gödel.
The story of Nash, as beautifully described in the novel A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, is of special interest. He suffered from a serious attack of schizophrenia sometime in his late 20's or early 30's. Although plagued by the disease for the next three decades or so, he recovered after that and today resides in Princeton, New Jersey, almost [but not quite] normal as far as his mental condition is concerned.
The point that I was trying to make earlier, was that our outlook toward the mentally ill is skewed. We are heavily biased against them. It is only when [or if] someone we care about falls prey to such an illness, that we start to understand the true nature of the situation.
I wish we could all be a little more sympathetic towards such people. Whether we know them or not. Even the court has not failed to recognize the helplessness of a mentally sick person to control his or her actions. Most criminal cases can be fought on the defense that the defendant is mentally ill. Such defendants, if successful in proving their claim, are committed to mental treatment rather than the slammer.
I guess the situation is best summed up by the following aphorism -
The Paradox of Love -
"A person needs your love the most,
When he or she deserves it the least."