Is Mental Illness a Choice?

This question has been on my mind very much recently. Quite honestly, I think the answer is no. I think that some people are predisposed to getting a mental illness through their genes and their environment essentially determines whether or not the illness is expressed.

Consider cancer. All of us have cancerous cells and tumor circulating and growing inside of our bodies. Sorry if I ruined your day.

However, only if we are exposed to certain chemicals, pathogens or viruses (and often the exposure needs to be extensive and frequent) could the cells metastasize and grow. Even then, the environment inside our bodies is quite capable of taking care of these cells.

Point blank, we have them and there is nothing we can do about being genetically predisposed to certain cancers.

The good news is that our lifestyle choices can help us out. Eating healthy, exercising, sleeping, avoiding drugs and alcohol, practicing meditation and stress lowering activities both stop cancer from developing and can backtrack it if it is there.

Mental illness though, that’s tough. I have gone through different stages of thinking about this. From my perspective, I believe that we do have the power to change our thinking. Sure, it’s hard to do and sometimes seems like bad thoughts will never end, but ultimately it can get better. That’s not to say we will never have toxic thoughts again, but we can teach ourselves how to make these thoughts very infrequent and often very fleeting.

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I think many people walk around with the prerequisites for developing a mental illness, but they have learned to control their environment and do not suffer from the harmful effects a mental illness can have.

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These people grew up in a household where positive body image was encouraged. These people were told to eat when they were hungry and stop when they were full. These people we taught that exercise is a part of daily life, not a laborious process. These people were not set up for mental illness even if they have some unknown gene for it.

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I do not believe mental illness is a choice because we cannot control most of our environments when we are children and are developing. Therefore I believe that certain people will be more likely to get a mental illness if they both have a gene for it and an environment encouraging it.

I do believe however that we can control how we react to our environment when we are old enough to understand what happiness and health are. We can learn to accept ourselves, eat appropriately, move more and be mindful. For some, it’s really challenging. For others not so much.

Think about the kid you knew in school who always got an A on a test even when they didn’t study. You probably got As too but had to work your ass off to get them. Same outcome, different ways to get there.

To bring this back around, to rise above a mental illness, one person might be genetically set up to do so, whereas another person has to work hard.

That’s life.

No questions, just thoughts today πŸ™‚

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7 comments

  1. Definitely agree! I believe I was predisposed with the genes to develop an eating disorder. My whole family history on my mom’s side struggles with addictive personalities and one of my sisters was anorexic as well. We’re very perfectionistic and that definitely goes along with it. I never dreamt of having an eating disorder and used to even say “Oh I’ll never have one because I love food too much!” But it happened. For me I’m 100% positive that I was absolutely predisposed to having one. However I totally agree that we can change our mindset! I mean, I’ve been in recovery for almost a year and so much has changed just due to my mindset. Anyway, I loved this post haha. πŸ™‚

    • Wow thanks for commenting! I enjoy reading your blog and even though we have different philosophies, we are very similar. I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts about this. I’d really like to get into the nitty gritty of mental illness and genes.

  2. Hi there! I think mental illness is not a choice but some time ago I used to think it was, and I would get angry at myself for having one. But just like you said, some people have greater chances to develop one and that’s the way it is.

    We can learn how to deal with it, and things can really get better. I got to the conclusion that feeling guilty for having an ED is pointless and I just had to focus on recovering. I liked your post. πŸ™‚

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