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Blogging Against Stigma: Charles Darwin

Famous scientist, Charles Darwin

Welcome to post 2 of my two-week series, Blogging Against Stigma. Someday, with a cumulative effort across society, people may stop dying from things like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Towards this end, this post is dedicated to Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882), a scientist who struggled with chronic and severe anxiety throughout most of his life. He also happened to complete the work upon which our understanding of modern day evolution is founded. Unfortunately our understanding of mental illness has not evolved as much. And so, Mr. Darwin's struggle with anxiety is being shared as a means of combating the one remaining factor that continues to haunt our approach to mental health as much today as it did throughout Mr. Darwin's lifetime - stigma.

A illustration representing the process of human evolution throughout the centuries

Not having the privilege of modern medicine as we know it today, Darwin underwent one form of treatment that required him to wrap bags of ice around his spine. This was the form of treatment commonly recommended by one doctor who took over his care at one point, routinely prescribed for curing "neurosis". Darwin utilized this treatment throughout his writing The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. Seriously....the man wrote a book with bags of ice wrapped around his spine! While Darwin's efforts to develop our understanding of human evolution were considered very controversial at the time, had he lived today, he might have avoided talking about his issues with anxiety altogether. Despite that he was strong enough to write an entire book with ice bags tied around his spine, there is a common misconception in our society that mental illness is synonymous with weakness. Darwin, himself, struggled with not knowing whether or not his symptoms were connected with heart disease (heart palpitations during anxiety attacks), or a stomach ailment (common complaint with anxiety). Today, he may have much rather preferred a diagnosis involving his heart over something attributable to his brain. Can you imagine the 'Survival of the Fittest' jokes the man may have had to endure, in response to a disorder that kept him from enjoying his life?

In the spirit of Darwin, I hope that our attitudes towards people who struggle with their mental health can someday evolve. As it stands, our attitudes towards mental health today, even 137 years since Darwin's passing, continue to negatively impact people struggling with similar issues in an era when treatment options have far surpassed what was available in Darwin's lifetime. Treatment has evolved. Our misconceptions - not so much. For now, I will continue to provide my services to clients across Arizona who are brave enough to ask for help. In my spare time, I will keep reaching out to those who may remain too ashamed or scared to do so (as well as those ignorant enough to shame them for considering it) by way of blog and social media. All we can do is try, my friends.

Warm Regards, Joanna Doane Ottavio

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