5 in 5. Contrary or True? Mental Health Issues
Mental health illnesses can strike one in 5 individuals. However, guest blogger, Melody Leclair, points out that many more are affected as they attempt to cope with a family member or friend struggling with mental illness.
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5 in 5. Contrary or True?
As a registered psychotherapist/author/blogger I know that one in five people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. However, as a family of 5, (with two adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder), I am acutely aware that mental illness affects “five in five”. We are all touched by mental illness, whether you are a friend, parent, relative, neighbour or, you yourself.
Bipolar Mood Disorder Strikes the Family
I thought my master’s degree in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy taught me everything I needed to know about mental health and mental illness, but my real education came when my eldest daughter Josee was diagnosed with bipolar at fifteen years of age. Bipolar is a mood disorder that is characterized by extreme highs and lows. At its peak, mania produces a state of overdrive and sometimes even psychosis, leaving one out of touch with reality; while its counterpart is severe depression, often accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
The management of it requires careful attention to sleep, diet, exercise and in most cases, medication, counselling and psychiatric treatment. I virtually earned my “PHD” four years later when my youngest son Luke was diagnosed with the same. I can honestly say, no amount of parenting, psychology training or work experience, can prepare you for the trauma of witnessing a family member, or anyone for that matter, out of their right mind. Thankfully, help is available for all.
The Mental Health System
Our family has been both amazed and perplexed by the mental health system. Amazed by the volume of available services and resources, and at times perplexed by how to navigate them. It seems to be the experience of many people, that crisis gets service. However, what can you do when a diagnosis is suspected and/or emerging? Where can you go for screening, prevention and education? My suggestion… whether you are advocating for yourself or a loved one — start a log. Write down your observations, thoughts, feelings experiences, noting specific days and times. Think of it as detective work. Build a case. Search for clues. Solve the case/ Work towards solving the case. Survey family members, educators, anyone who is in your relational world that has a window into the behaviours you are trying to detect/ discern. Trust your gut and don’t stop searching for answers until you are satisfied. Start by bringing these concerns to your Doctor. Share any family history of mental illness. Query possible screening tools and begin the process of putting the puzzle pieces together in search for answers. This paperwork is often filled out by you and potentially some of the people you surveyed.
Ultimately, just get started. If your GP is not knowledgeable in the matters you are presenting, ask for a referral to another Doctor or specialist: paediatrician (for children under the age of sixteen) psychologist, or psychiatrist for a thorough assessment. In my book, When Lightning Strikes Twice I talk about the importance of being patient and persistent, but mostly, persistent. Be prepared to wait, and sometimes even pay. A lot of services are covered under OHIP and or personal health benefits, but some are not. Public and private resources are available. Public services via school systems: in-board Psychologists, Child and Youth Workers, Social Worker, Counsellors. Canadian Mental Health Association has both adult and adolescent walk-in and follow up services including psychiatric care amongst counselling and other resources for the both individuals and families. Private services: via psychologists & counsellors. While of course these are not an exhaustive list, my hope is that they serve as a starting point for further exploration.
A Message for Mental Health Caregivers
Be aware that caring for a loved one with mental illness can wear out the greatest of caregivers. The wellbeing of the caregiver is inextricably tied to the wellbeing of the child for example. Take time for yourself. Quality over quantity. Discover what works for you. Ask for help. Notice the impact on your family members and name it. Offer support personally and or professionally. You can bring a horse to water but cannot make them drink, and that is ok. Let them know you are there for them and that they can always change their mind. Go for family counselling. If family members are not willing to follow, go anyway. Members can always join in later, and if not, get help for yourself.
Coping With Mental Health Illness
Coping with mental illness is not for the faint of heart and no body expects you to be a superhero except you. Attend CMHA’s free eight-week Family Education Program. You can access it through HERE247 (1-844-437-3247). Name the ambiguous grief you may be feeling. Although you have not lost a child/friend/ partner to death, you have experienced a significant loss to the journey you dreamed of for yourself an your loved one. Lastly, Hold the hope. Your loved one is going to look to you and those around them to have the confidence that they are going to make it through. So, provide it. Show it. Encourage them and most importantly believe in them. Remember, nobody can do the work of recovery but the person themselves.
A Message of Hope for All Diagnosed Mental Illness.
Hope is the most effective tool. Know that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. Although it is a lifelong adjustment, it does not need to have the last say. Fight back. Work hard everyday. Medication is only part of the solution. Find a regime and medical team that works with you and for you. Otherwise, change it up. Be your own best advocate. Remember, things change and get better. Adopt a mantra and mindset for hope, as in the movie Field of Dreams, ‘Build it, and it will come’. Make and maintain healthy routines even when you do not feel like it. Remember, feelings are not facts. It is OK to talk about and even challenge automatic thoughts and feelings that leave you feeling down. Don’t do life on your own. Let people in. Talk about it. Take risks. While not everyone will respond favourably, others may surprise you. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. You are so much more than your disorder. Find ways to express yourself through words, music, art and work towards your dreams. You can and will live and lead a fulfilling life. Play your part.
Melody is a registered psychotherapist/author/blogger who is well familiar with the difficulties that a mental illness can present.
When Lightning Strikes Twice contains first person accounts of our family’s journey through mental illness; not only from each family member’s perspectives, but collective insights from an extraordinary community of friends and clinicians. Not only does it serve as a resource, it is a heartfelt and authentic family experience of mental illness, punctuated with honesty and humour. You will undoubtedly be captivated, informed and inspired.
For more information check out www.whenlightningstrikestwice.
Nan Jones – Where is God When Life is Messy?
Rebekah Hughes – Hope Echoes in Hollow Places
Images Courtesy Of:
Lonely woman – Graehawk
Sad woman – Counselling
Paperwork – Tero Vesalainen
Hope/Despair – geralt
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