Mind Wide Open
Many people are under the assumption that people with mental illness are gone or out there; “They must not know what’s going in their surroundings. They probably didn’t even hear what I just said.” This assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. People with mental illness know what’s going on, but they might not demonstrate it through their affect.
The affect of a person with a mental illness may not be congruent with their mood or internal state. Inside, they may be fully aware of their surroundings and in touch with their emotions, but on the outside they may appear gone with the wind. The saying “never judge a book by its cover” couldn’t be more true.
You’d be surprised to learn how many people with mental illness remember past conversations or even factoids. They may even remember your name, when you thought all along that they weren’t mentally present. This occurs because many times, they are mentally present, but their illness affects the way they present themselves to the world.
Even those with severe psychosis may have some insight into what is going on in their surroundings. It’s just much more difficult for outside observers to believe that they know what’s going on, when for instance, they’re attempting to crush flying bugs on the wall, when you’re just trying to hold a conversation with them.
You should never assume that people with mental illness are not paying attention to you. You may end up saying something under your breath out of frustration or ignorance, and hurting their feelings and contributing to their suffering. You always want to keep an open mind to people with mental illness, just as they keep their minds wide open to what you’re saying.
Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)