The trouble with knowing whether mental illness exists is that it depends upon what one means by Mental Illness. Even examining just two important fields of society, Medical and Legal, the definition of something like “Insanity” is completely different. Beyond these fields, it is wide open. People say Mental Illness with an idea of something in their minds that may, or may not, fit the clinical definition at all.
Another problem with Mental Illness is the stigma attached to it. Not even mentally ill people think of themselves as “the mentally ill.” People are not going to take ownership of a title, or label for themselves, that they do not believe fits them.
People with actual chemical imbalance such as schizophrenia, and various depressions, are as physically ill as any other body part malfunction would make any of us. But on a wider scale than that, Mental Illness is left to interpretation. Do you feel you need a mental health break from time to time? Do you feel the pain and pressures of life may make you feel truly ill? Most of us would have to say yes, at least once in awhile, if we are honest.
Maybe what the world needs is to accept just as having a cold is not the same as having bone cancer, having a tantrum day is not the same as hallucinating that Elvis or Lady Gaga is telling us to kidnap and devour babies.
That said, there is something to the notion that all people living in our hectic and very unnatural world are by varying degrees “ill” from it. Modern stress is quite different than then the flight of fight situations of our earliest ancestors. We evolved to have the flight or flight response, but because most of our living is occurring in our mind, that is conceptually, we cannot easily leap out of situations that are stressful. This has us internalizing stress, and accepting a kind of societal “denial” that allows all of us to remain living in alienated, sometimes unsupportive artificial environments. We cannot say what we really feel in many, many situations without fear of not being a team player. We cannot even eat, drink, or wear or live in places that are natural. Many believe these simple facts of modern life contribute to a near global wide human Mental Illness. If all of that is not enough, huge profits are to be made in the pharmaceutical industry in convincing people they need drugs, unlike most other animals on earth. We can begin to feel inadequate, even irresponsible, for not boosting big pharma profits daily. We are told to manage our "illness" not stop the root cause, or address our behaviors.
So, does mental Illness exist? Yes, it sadly does. We are creatures that evolved one way, but must live most of our lives another way. We have big brains that have given us every developed world improvement. It does not prove however, that for all our prowess and technology, that we are healthier than other cerebral animals, such as dolphins and chimpanzees. But it does say we have more control over life and death, not only for ourselves and our kind, but also over whether we allow killing of those chimps and dolphins, along with every other species, including our food supply. That is a huge responsibility. It is so mind boggling, in fact, that it is not a big leap to realize to have so much say in what happens to ourselves and other living things, we have even more, almost unbearable, stress!
Mental Illness is a fact of the human condition, only compassion, acceptance, and acknowledgement that it affects each and every one of us, in one way or another, can we begin to find the courage to throw off the stigma, own the problem, and thereby own the solutions.