One of my passions is to to bring awareness of the effects Mental Health has on our communities, businesses, and families. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers) 18.6% of the U.S. adult population experience a mental illness in a given year. The number is even higher for adolescents (21.4%). Among these statistics, 18.1% of adults live with an anxiety disorder, 2.6% live with Bipolar Disorder, and 6.9% have had a Major Depressive Episode in the last year. Only 41% of adults living with a mental illness received mental health services in the last year. There are many factors that contribute to those who are suffering from a mental illness not receiving the services needed, including cost and accessibility. Among the reasons for not receiving services is the fear of judgement or embarrassment. There also is often a lack of hope that counseling or medication will actually help treat the condition. Past failed experiences with treatment also contribute to this sense of hopelessness. A helpful article written on this topic can be found at http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/01/14/what-prevents-people-from-seeking-mental-health-treatment/.
If you or a family member is suffering with anxiety, depression and/or bipolar, here are some good first steps toward treatment:
1. When you address your loved-one, friend or co-worker, do so with care and concern. Oftentimes those who spend time with someone who is depressed, anxious or just seems “moody”, they are fed up and annoyed with the person’s attitude and behavior. Sometimes other’s “stress” becomes our stress, and we have enough of our own to take on someone else’s problems. The problem with this attitude is that the person who is suffering continues to suffer, and oftentimes does not get the help he needs simply because others have already judged him for his condition. Why would someone who has been judged for a mental or emotional condition volunteer to be further scrutinized, because actually naming the condition might lead to further judgment right? If the person who is struggling feels as though you are genuinely concerned about their pain, and not your own, then he or she is more likely to seek treatment. It is helpful for the person to hear you say, ‘I see your are struggling, I care about you and you deserve to feel better’.
2. If you are a friend or family member, volunteer to go to the first appointment as a means of support. If the person you care about is resistant to treatment, your added support may be the encouragement he needs to take this leap of faith. You could go one step further by helping him research treatment options and be a sounding board for him to decide which treatment professional is the best fit. If he does not want you to go with him to the appointment, then be there to discuss the outcome with him afterwards. If he is dissatisfied, then be the sounding board he needs to work through his concerns. Try not to be negative or hopeless, but not a Pollyanna either. Its okay to be a cheerleader, but also a realist. This journey is not going to be an easy one, and the path to healing is not a straight course. You may have to manage your own expectations of his improvement along with his.
3. It is difficult to be in the position of caretaker. Oftentimes those who are in a relationship with someone who is suffering from a mental illness become exasperated, resentful and hopeless. This is due in part to the many efforts over sometimes many years toward cheering him up or calming him down, or whatever the case may be. A caretaker oftentimes becomes somewhat traumatized by their failed efforts to treat a condition, that they are not qualified to treat. If your husband, wife, or child is suffering, the truth is the whole family suffers as a result. However, putting yourself in the role of fixer, might only worsen the problem. Not only is it okay to seek professional help for a mental health condition, it is actually irresponsible not to. You wouldn’t perform your spouse’s appendectomy would you? Then be his spouse, not his therapist. If you are in a close relationship with someone who you think might have a mental illness, then seek treatment for yourself as well. It will be helpful for you to heal from the results of living with someone with a mental health condition, and you will likely gain helpful guidance for addressing your loved one and his condition more effectively.
4. One of the most important pieces of addressing a person with a mental illness is to separate the condition from the person. I often hear people say, ‘that’s just how he is.’. But what if a person’s behavior is not reflective of his personality, but of a mental health condition that he can improve. Those struggling with anxiety, depression and/or bipolar, are often times moody, irresponsible, and sometimes withdrawn. We often assume that a person is purposefully being difficult, and that he is fully aware of what he is doing. But what if he isn’t self-aware enough to recognize that his thoughts, feelings and behavior are all optional. One of the most enduring things about creation to me is that there is consistency and change simultaneously. There is consistency and change continually in all three aspects of our being, including our physical, mental and spiritual selves. So, that being said, change is possible. The core condition may always be present, but on the continuum of health there is always room for improvement. It is self-defeating to believe that a state of being will always be the way it is today, and it might even be enabling to believe that the person you care about cannot be any better than he is today.
If you suspect that you or someone you care about is suffering from mental illness. I hope you will consider these tips and ideas as a new perspective on mental health. The truth is mental illness has always existed, but our understanding of it and the best courses of treatment are still being developed. Allow yourself to be open and teachable about these conditions, and helpful to those who may be suffering.
Written by Kendra H. Gilbert, LPC