By Terry Rogers
Recently, World Mental Health Day was celebrated as October 10 was set aside for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. Stacie Smith, LCSW, an Outpatient Therapist at People’s Place, says that it can be difficult to recognize when a loved one begins suffering from mental illness.
“People do not walk around with badges saying, ‘I have mental illness!’,” Ms. Smith said. “There is still an enormous stigma associated with having mental illness that people in the mental health field are trying to o
vercome. Despite that, people experiencing mental illness do not want to be viewed as “crazy” and, as a result, often do not discuss their struggles. Alternately, they tend to develop adaptive behaviors that serve to hide their struggles to the public so that often times, even family members do not know the severity of the illness.”
One important indicator of mental illness is a family history as some types do run in families. Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are some that are often found in more than one family member. Smith states that changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping more or less than usual, isolation or withdrawn behaviors, shifts in work or school performance, disruptions in personal relationships, illogical thinking, changes in appetite and loss of motivation are early signs of mental illness.
“While not a complete list of symptoms for all mental illnesses and while most of us exhibit one or several of these issues throughout our lives from time to time, these symptoms should be discussed with a medical professional for further evaluation,” Ms. Smith said. “If a family member exhibits some of these early signs and you feel comfortable enough to do so, express your concern to your loved one. However, if the loved one is an adult, there may not be much you can do to get that person into treatment without their consent. Sometimes, people who may be struggling with mental illness do not believe they are. It may be difficult, but try to listen without judgment to their reasons why. There may be fear underlying their response and that if they admit to having a mental illness, that they will be stigmatized or cast out of the family unit or even their profession. Ask what you can do to help them and take cues from them.” If any loved one expresses thoughts of suicide or appears suicidal, individuals should contact 911 or Delaware’s Mobile Crisis Center at 800-345-6785.
Early intervention is one of the best ways to help someone who may be suffering from mental illness. Recognizing warning signs and seeking appropriate treatment can help someone build a support system and learn coping skills that will be valuable in combating symptoms associated with various mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Mental illness can also lead to other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, mental illness can drastically reduce physical health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, mental illness affects approximately 25 percent of the adult population, yet nearly 40 percent of those with mental illness smoke cigarettes. The CDC states that nicotine has mood-altering effects that can temporarily mask the negative symptoms of mental illness which put people who suffer with mental disorders at a higher risk of nicotine addiction. As a result, mentally ill people are at a higher risk of developing a smoking-related illness than someone who is not mentally ill.
“Many people do not consider the financial consequences of undiagnosed mental illness,” Ms. Smith said. “Some mental health conditions lead to decreased inhibitions and increased impulsivity with spending. There is reduced productivity, absenteeism and increased healthcare costs that are just a few ways that mental illness cost money. Mental illness can also lead to interpersonal conflicts, familial strains on relationships and overall functioning, reduced ability or total inability to maintain employment as well as financial hardship.”
Often family members who are aware that a loved one is exhibiting signs of mental illness choose not to address the issue. This may be out of respect for the loved one or to avoid conflict. It is possible that concerns have been voiced with the loved one before and they became defensive or did not take steps to correct the problem. Smith states that this can be very frustrating for family and friends, but it is important to take cues from the mentally ill person, maintain boundaries and ask how they can help.
“There are numerous outpatient mental health clinics that provide support and treatment to people suffering from mental illness,” Ms. Smith said. “Most clinics will assess new patients and determine a unique treatment plan to address specific concerns and goals. For those struggling with suicidal ideation, inpatient hospitalization may be more appropriate but would be assessed by a qualified mental health or medical professional. Ongoing support is necessary for some people with mental illness, but others are able to return to their typical functioning and activities after a shorter period of treatment.”
There are also support services for family members who are dealing with someone with a mental illness. “Having a loved one who has been diagnosed with a mental illness can feel sad and overwhelming,” Ms. Smith explained. “IF you are struggling with grief associated with someone else’s mental illness, seek support to cope with those feelings and to further learn how to respectfully support your loved one.”
Anyone dealing with a mental illness or a loved one exhibiting signs of mental illness can reach out to the Mental Health Association of Delaware at http://www.mhainde.org/wp/. They can also contact People’s Place at 302-422-8026 for more information.
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