They are not what I initially thought, when I started talking with psychiatrists in 1998. But it is helpful to understand both concepts. In psychiatry or mental health, a ‘negative symptom’ refers to the abnormal absence of a feature; for instance, the absence of motivation in a patient; as with a person not having the motivation to get out of bed. Conversely, a ‘positive symptom’ refers to the abnormal presence of a feature; for instance, the presence of paranoia in a patient; as with a person having delusions of persecution and self-importance.
Without a doubt: taking my medication. Every single day. Every single dose. Not ceasing or increasing it without permission. In short, taking my medication exactly as directed by the doctor (a psychiatrist). Medication has been my primary form of treatment and I have always fully cooperated with it. It is by no means a cure but the medication offsets my mental disorders and has supported my mental health to a point where my more prominent symptoms are controlled, allowing me to function quite well in my daily life. (So, while medication is not the cure, it is a really good second-prize.) I have a strong sense that if I went off this treatment I would inevitably become very unwell and need to be hospitalised. I do not want to go back to square one!
I think that many of them do. However, I strongly discourage mentally-ill people from engaging in a sexual relationship. I do not believe that I am being inhumane. I have good reasons for my opinion. Firstly, relationships are complex and difficult even for able-minded people, and a breakup will more easily set an ill person off-balance, which could spiral into a life-and-death issue. Secondly, as an ill person myself, I believe that I am not equipped to be a father. I am talking about being consistently well enough to care for and provide for children. And abortion is a terrible ‘choice.’ Thirdly, my probable genetic predisposition to mental illness means that my offspring are more likely to develop mental illness themselves. In all of this I feel that I am facing up to the stark reality.
Or, ‘How did I land in the psychiatric hospital?’ I remember asking this sort of question many times of the nursing staff when I was hospitalised. The answer that I always got was simple, though it frustrated me: ‘Don’t worry [about what happened]; just focus on getting better.’ Almost twenty-three years later, that advice takes the shape of looking forward and giving my best in the present moment.
The short answer is that mental illness can occur because of hereditary factors or environmental factors, or a combination of both. This will be unique to each sufferer but, in my case, I theorise that it was a combination of both. Let me explain: the fact that I used to be anxious a lot, and from a very early age, suggests hereditary factors; while my final psychotic breakdown at the age of twenty probably had to do additionally with environmental factors like being bullied in my employment, and the resultant pressure. While the hereditary factors cannot really be shifted, steps may be taken when young people are growing up to provide a better ‘environment’ for them. But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, often there is little that can prevent the onset of mental illness; it may only be delayed.
No, mental illness is not contagious. You cannot catch it. Usually, the most that a mentally-ill person is going to give you is . . . an opportunity to be kind. So, when you are aware of someone who is down and out, look for that chance to be kind. It may be as simple as meeting his eyes, or saying ‘Hello’ or, if he likes to talk, trying to listen to his story. The humanity, equality and worth of the ill person cannot be overstated.
I intend each post to consist of a short question followed by a brief answer. The main subject of the blog is stigma, hand-in-hand with mental illness; and how the two may be uncoupled. More broadly, I include questions designed to help people better understand mental illness. My answers are drawn from a lifetime of living with a progression of mental illness: from anxiety as a child, to depression as a teenager, to psychosis (schizophrenia) as a young adult. Much of this stays with me; but read how I learned to cope, and why I remain always hopeful.