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Mental Illness...It's more than perception!

By Stephen C. Schultz


We have all heard the saying, "perception IS reality".
Have you ever wondered where “vision” actually takes place? I went blind in my right eye when I was twenty four. (I did have lens implant surgery.) During that time I decided I was going to learn as much about vision as I could…without going to medical school.


I came to realize that vision, simply stated, is light reflecting off objects, traveling through your iris, and then through your lens, hitting the back of your eyeball. At this time, the light hits the rods and cones and travels through your retina as electrical impulses. These electrical impulses then enter the brain and move along the neurons, cross the synapses as chemical neurotransmitters and then back into electrical impulses once they cross the synapses. This happens millions of times over fractions of a second.

So, where does vision happen? There is no movie screen in our eyes or our head. If you think of your brain as a computer, there is no computer monitor. Even though I know the brain organizes these impulses into some kind of order, where is the picture? Kind of makes you think!

When someone suffers from a visual or auditory hallucination, they are simply having the neurons in their brain function without any external light or sound waves. As a society, we tend to generalize and call people “crazy”. There is a collective feeling of being uncomfortable around the issues of mental illness.


In my work, I have witnessed upstanding leaders in the community enter an emergency room in what is diagnosed as a “Brief Psychotic Episode”. These men and women have come in to the hospital out of touch with reality. They generally receive a shot of an anti-psychotic medication, sleep throughout the night and return home the next day. Usually there is no precipitating event or use of drugs or alcohol.

When the elderly gentleman next door is diabetic we show compassion and understanding. When your 9 yr old daughter’s friend has a seizure disorder, we are interested in learning more about it and how we can help. When the woman walking towards us on the street is “babbling” to herself, we cross the street.

The reality that we must all come to grips with…is that we are all just one neuron away from being “crazy”.

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