As normality is often hard to define, a case study was done in 2008 in which students at Woodvale Senior High School, specifically students in the music program, were exposed to a certain kind of abnormalality, or as it was described at the time by Dr. Summerville, "weirdness." The aim was to see what adolescents perceived as normal, or "average," and what they thought would be abstract, or as many of the participants described it, "weird." Test subjects were asked to have a "normal conversation" with their peers. It soon became apparent that discussions between close, or even "best" friends, was defined as weird by others with whom they were engaging in conversation. The conclusions of the study were that normalness is not an entirely flawed concept, rather it is simply defined as what the majority perceives as the mean, or average.
Wikpedia tell us this: In behavior, normal refers to a lack of significant deviation from the average. The phrase "not normal" is often applied in a negative sense-asserting that someone or some situation is improper. Abnormality varies greatly in how pleasant or unpleasant this is for other people.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "normal" as conforming to a standard. This, although almost right, is not entirely correct. "A normal" is someone who conforms to the ideals of society. This can be for any number of reasons, ranging from the positive, such as genuine admiration for and acceptance of society's standard, to the negative, out of fear of humiliation, fear of rejection, fear of being thought mad.
In Minnesota, the average (normal) family consists of two parents and 1.93 children. What does a .93 child look like? The average (normal) weight for an adult female is 162.9 pounds. The average (normal) height for an adult male is 5'9.2. Therefore, if you are a family with two children, a female who weighs 135, or a male who is 5'10, you are abnormal. How does that make you feel?
For those who have lived through the process of watching teens mature, there is a great deal of relief when they move into the normal adult behavior. Probably more normal clothes, normal sleeping habits, normal eating habits, etcetera. As parents, we feel that they may never reach the normal stage.
In the case of health and mental health, statistics show us that 50% of all Americans will have a mental disorder during their lifetime. Those same statistics tell us that 50-60% of those with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. Why, if they are sick, we ask, would they not go to see a doctor? If a person has a broken arm, they will usually not let it heal on its own or wait to see if it becomes lethal.
A great part of why folks won't talk about their own mental health struggles has to do with the stigma surrounding a brain disease. What will people think?
The stigma associated with mental illness is a big barrier to recovery. If we truly want to be a healthy society, we need a major shift in thinking about whether a mental illness is really a disease, and not a character flaw, a weakness in character, a crime, or abnormal.
Just as anyone who goes through a major change in their life must adapt to new habits and ways of living, those who deal with mental health issues must develop a new normal. When someone has a mental health struggle, there is often a feeling of loss of control over their life. They can't think the way they used to. Concentration is often affected, and their energy level and the ability to perform daily functions may be impacted. It causes changes in a person's thinking, mood, and behavior. This does not mean that this person is dangerous, or unable to be employed or be a productive member of the community.
For example, in the case of someone struggling with depression, in their pre-illness state they may have been an avid reader, and an awesome multi-tasker. When suffering with a bout of depression, that same person may have to make changes in their daily schedule and develop a new normal, the same way we adjust to aging, weather changes, or many other environmental situations.
When our society understands and accepts that a mental health struggle really is no different than any other health challenge, then the concept of normal will change, and the stigma that prevents people from seeking help will decrease.
Written byJode Freyholtz, CSN Region 5+ Supervisor / website: www.mhcsn.org
Submitted by: Holly Biggins, Family Links Program Coordinator, Northern Pines Mental Health Center.
This column is contributed monthly by the Crow Wing County Local Advisory Council On Children's Mental Health.
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