Mathematics and Mental Illness

By Vishal Lama

It shall be my endeavor as one of the editors of this blog to discuss topics that may perhaps be tangential to mathematics proper but, nevertheless, very important to anyone learning mathematics. Since students of mathematics – I think it would be quite safe to include professors, researchers and professional mathematicians in that category – are social beings that are members of a dynamic community of really smart people engaged in some pretty serious and intense intellectual activity, it goes without saying that such members are subject to the usual vicissitudes of the mind that the average person encounters but perhaps in even greater measure and to a wider degree.

One would be offering a platitude if it were mentioned that the (physical) body undergoes many and continual changes, both pleasant and unpleasant, during the course of its lifetime. The fact that the body undergoes illness, occasionally, doesn’t surprise us anymore than the fact that the sun rises in the east everyday. However, the topic of mental illness seems to bring about a different sort of reaction from most people, who think that having any kind of mental illness, whether mild or severe, is a sign of “weakness” (mental weakness, as some would say) that is of an entirely different nature from “physical weakness.” The fact that a mind that is engaged in plenty of intense and protracted mental activity should suffer a few negative side-effects, every now and then, comes as a surprise to many. Or, at least, that’s the common misperception held by many.

The concomitant consequences of such a commonly held viewpoint mentioned above are manifold. For one, even highly knowledgeable people, who may have all the facts with them, may respond in irrational ways should they, at some point in their lives, encounter any mental illness. This is a sad but a true fact. The problem of mental illness is further compounded by the fact that both undergraduate and graduate students, who may suffer from various forms of mental illness to varying degrees, do not usually have access to the necessary tools to combating the same. And, even if they do, there might be considerable reluctance on their part to using those tools for varied reasons.

There is, of course, a great need to rectify the aforementioned situation vis-à-vis mental illness. How that can be achieved for the larger mathematical community, especially for the subgroup of undergraduate and graduate students, would be the goal of a series of blog posts that I intend to write. To be sure, I don’t have any of the answers to a lot of questions that I shall raise on this topic, but it is my sincere hope that something good will come out of the discussions over the long run, thereby helping math students in better dealing with the issues of mental illness should they arise in the students’ lives.

This entry was posted in Advice, General, Math and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.