Some time ago, I was sitting in a discussion that started with ice cream cones and rappers. The discussion progressed comically before veering toward the serious, when a friend asked:

“Why do entertainers feel the need to do this to themselves? Shouldn’t they just go sit down somewhere and sort through their shit?”

This made me think about mental illness and our way of dealing with those who suffer from it.

At this point, we’re aware of the symptoms of a mental disorder. Some are more innocuous than others (low self-esteem vs. sociopathic thinking, for example), but on the horizontal continuum of mental health, they all deserve equal scrutiny.

Still a very much under-discussed issue, mental health is the most crucial barrier to wellness, for the impetus to total wellness depends on a mind’s stability. Mental illness is not something only a few people are afflicted with. Just like how most people “come down with the cold,” most people deal with an off-balanced psyche at any given time. The challenge is to stay cognizant of factors that prevent wellness and take active steps to fix it.

If we were to place mental illness on the same plane as physical illness, then we have to assume a similarity of wellness techniques. Being that my immune system can be altered if placed in a room with someone with a flared-up cold, it follows that being around people with a mental illness can trigger a contagion effect.

You may get where I’m going with this. Fortunately (on this subject), I’m not that reductive. Quarantining yourself when “sick” may be the very thing that prevents wellness. So where’s the balance between articulating our issues and letting others help us and keeping away from others so that we won’t inflict our off vibes unto them?

Separation is what people tend to do when feeling down or indifferent. There are a segment of people, however, who use their “issues” to be manipulative and self-absorbed and insufferable. You know, those who always talk about themselves and their views and problems, without realizing – or caring about – the discomfort they cause to others.

For these types, it’s much easier to say “stay to your damn self” like you would to your coworker who is sneezing and coughing in the next cubicle. And that would seem completely intuitive, except it disregards the redeeming powers of socializing. I’m no more informed than the next armchair psychologist, but being a misanthrope isn’t the answer to anything if you plan on sucking air for a while.

Withdrawing at times, though, is as healthy and necessary as engaging, and likewise, should be done in moderation. There are few things worse than asking someone, “how are you doing?” and them (all the time) responding with “life sucks.” How do you respond to that?

If life sucks that bad, then withdrawing is needed yesterday. With the ubiquity of social networks and the Internet being the new TV, how can a mindset attracted to dysfunction at the time — saying “life sucks” and meaning it spells dysfunction, no? — really withdraw?

Twitter updates and Facebook statuses and comment threads to articles are replete with misery and discontent. Cyberspace has become a daily festivus of grievances that makes it that much easier for anybody with a sound mind to become unsound.

By keeping your problems and issues close and allowing yourself the time and space to sort them, a strengthened mental immune system is more likely.

But taking time to yourself is one thing. What you do in those moments of healing is another. The subject of controlling mental angst and anxiety attacks and depression is a tricky one. There is no panacea for dealing with them; you deal the best way you know how.

Some people use medication. Some withdraw. Some take a few deep breaths on the spot and become good to go. Some become assholes to those around them.

Which group do you fall in? For most of us, “all of the above” is an answer we can safely fill in. The rub: Many take the last option and run with it, leaving people more irritated than sympathetic, which then leaves us with the same unabated problem.

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  • “…it follows that being around people with a mental illness can trigger a contagion effect.”

    State your source. Where has it been documented that mental illness is contagious?

    Clearly this article was written (sloppily) by someone who has no personal or familial experience with mental illness. Isolation is the WRONG ANSWER for someone who is struggling with their mental health.

    • Geez, that’s unblevieable. Kudos and such.

  • Talysha

    Wow. My take on the issue was isolation and the sociopath. I have a “friend” who is displaying this behavior right now. She was going through some personal issues and problems with her boyfriend but I didn’t think that she would just up and quit her job and school and leave town. I never heard from her even though I have tried to contact her and reach out to her on several occasions. I’m all for people needing their space and wanting to work through their issues but I felt like our friendship was strong enough to where she could have talked to me about it. I found out that she left by looking at her Facebook statuses. I totally agree with the article and she is using her issues as a vehicle for self-absorption and vanity. It’s a COVER UP! I think she’s insecure and that she uses her looks to make up for what she lacks. She is a pretty girl but I don’t have time to play games with a so-called grown woman. If I want to play, I’ll play with the child I helped bring in this world (who will be here in 3 months, mind you). This stress is unnecessary for a pregnant woman. Sorry to say, but I don’t want turn my back on her but she is on my nerve.