Supporting A Loved One With Mental Illness: Shattering the Mental Health Stigma
While mental illness is just like any other physical health problem or ailment, supporting a loved one who’s afflicted with a mental health issue can present some unique challenges. It’s not always easy to “see” signs of mental illness, and for friends and family of a person struggling with one, it can be hard to know how to best offer support.
Dani Singer, founder of Therapy Threads and licensed marriage and family therapist, offers some advice for those wondering how to help those they care about with sensitivity and without stepping over certain boundaries.
“First of all, definitely educate yourself about the mental illness your friend or family member is struggling with. Try not to let the stigma get to you,” Singer said. “Mental illness is just like a physical health problem/illness, so try to treat it as such. Educate others to spread awareness and knowledge. One in four people have a mental illness, so even if you aren’t personally impacted, you likely know someone who is.”
Singer encourages empathy and understanding. “Treat them with love, compassion and support. Don’t judge. Don’t criticize or minimize them and what they’re going through. Listen, ask questions and be curious. Try to put yourself in their shoes, empathize with them and validate their feelings, even if there are things you don’t agree with. Remember, you don’t have to agree with someone to still validate their experience. Try to understand why it makes sense to them to feel the way they do. And BEFORE you try to offer advice or problem solve, know that what most people want more than ANYTHING is to feel listened to and understood. Then and only then are they likely to listen to your advice or seek further help.”
It can be hard to not come across as pushy or insensitive, but the onus is on the caregiver. Understand that recognizing and healing a mental illness can be very difficult for your loved one to do. Singer said, “Encourage your loved one to seek help if they haven’t already. Refer them to psychologytoday.com to find a local provider and encourage them to schedule with several therapists to “shop around” for the right fit – just like you would for a car or clothing. Remind them that there are over 100 therapy treatments and that each therapist is different. The process of finding the right fit can take time, but it could mean the difference between successful treatment and unsuccessful treatment.”
Often, someone who’s seeking therapy tries only one therapist and/or gets discouraged or writes off the entire process as a waste of time or money. It’s important for an individual to be patient with themselves and with the therapy, and give to it time to start making a difference.
Just like if you’re supporting or caregiving for someone with a physical illness, it’s essential to also be sure to exercise self-care. As Singer elaborates, “Absolutely! Take care of yourself! Dealing with a loved one’s mental illness can be stressful, so don’t forget to put your own self-care first so you can be there in the most healthy and helpful way for your loved ones. It’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else or to put someone who’s struggling needs before your own, but that won’t help anyone. Managing your own stress, health, and well-being will be the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else! Then you will be better able to be there for them, in a calm, mindful way.”
Remember these tips next time you approach a loved one who may be struggling with a mental illness. Really make an effort to think about how to best show compassion and empathy not just during Mental Health Month, but every month hereafter.
At Therapy Threads, creating an awareness of alternative healing methods and helping end the stigma associated with mental illness is the ultimate goal. If you’d like to be a therapy threads advocate and help spread aromatherapy goodness, break down the mental health stigma, and get sweet discounts to share, check out the web site:
Linden Lodge Foundation would like to encourage our visitors to watch Dr. Insel’s presentation at CalTech below for a better understanding of the serious brain illnesses. It really is great information and about halfway through it deals with the onset of these illnesses and how they progress. One really interesting point is that until certain behavioral changes are present, families do not know that a brain illness is the cause of these changes.
Mental Disorders as Brain Disorders: Thomas Insel at TEDxCaltech
A rethink is needed in terms of how we view mental illness, stated National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel, M.D., in a recent TEDx talk at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.
Deaths from medical causes such as leukemia and heart disease have decreased over the past 30 years. The same cannot be said of the suicide rate, which has remained the same. A vast majority of suicides—90 percent—are related to mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.
Insel believes part of the problem is that mental illness is referred to either as a mental or behavioral disorder. “We need to think of these as brain disorders,” he said, adding that for these brain disorders, behavior is the last thing to change.
Insel walked the audience through recent advances in neuroscience, including the Human Connectome, which indicates that mental illness may be more of a neuronal connection or circuit disorder. The earlier these circuits are identified, he said, the earlier preventive treatments could be used to save the lives of people with mental illnesses.
“If we waited for the ‘heart attack,’ we would be sacrificing 1.1 million lives every year in this country,” he said. “That is precisely what we do today when we decide that everyone with one of these brain disorders, brain circuit disorders, has a behavior disorder. We wait until the behavior emerges. That’s not early detection, that’s not early prevention.”
NAMI Moore County Meeting Information
NAMI-MC meetings are free and open to the public.
Meetings are normally held the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Community Room of the The Pinehurst Fire Department, 405 Magnolia Road Pinehurst. Meetings offer an educational segment at the beginning of the evening with a support meeting offered after the scheduled program.
NAMI-Moore County Information HotLine:
The NAMI-Moore County Information HotLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling (910) 295-1053.
Trained volunteers provide information, referrals, and support to all who have questions about or are affected by serious mental illness.
The Information HotLine offers:
- Information. We provide general (non-professional) information on illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression; issues affecting children, adolescents & young families; general questions about medication; NAMI programs (such as Family-to-Family and In Our Own Voice); NAMI policy positions (such as mental health parity) … and a whole lot more!
- Referrals. Callers are referred to other organizations serving the needs of those affected by serious mental illness.
- Support. Trained volunteers – consumers and family members – are in a unique position to offer support and empathy from people who know what it’s like and who have “been there.”
FAMILY TO FAMILY COURSE:
NAMI-MC Offers 12-Week Course to Help Family Members of individuals with a persistent and severe mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Moore County is offering the 12 session “Family to Family” course free to family members of close relatives with mental illness.
Call 910-295-1053 to register and/or for more information. For more details, check out the NAMI-Moore County website. Everything is confidential.
Crisis Intervention Team Training:
Known as CIT, Crisis Intervention Team Training is a pre-booking jail diversion program which trains law enforcement officers on how to connect persons in mental health crisis to appropriate mental health services rather than the criminal justice system. For additional information or registration, please contact Mr. Phil Hewett, Sandhills Center Organization Law Enforcement Liaison at (910) 673-0906. or go to the Sandhills Center Website.