The importance of friend and family support for the mentally ill

“Crazy, nuts, psycho, schizo, insane”– these are the derogatory terms often used to describe the mentally ill.

Mental illness has long been the red-headed stepchild in comparison with other types of illnesses known to man. Mental illness has been overshadowed by stigma, misconceptions and fear, which is driven by a lack of knowledge. 

For this reason, individuals with mental illness have been under-treated for many years. They have been shunned by society and are often viewed as aggressive and violent.

As a psychiatric mental health nurse, I have witnessed the issues which individuals with mental illness continue to face. They have been treated poorly when placed in health care settings other than psychiatry and often do not receive the care that they need. 

For some reason, there seems to be a disposition among many health care professionals to not specialize in psychiatry. One of the common mistakes I’ve observed is that mentally ill individuals are often viewed as aggressive and are labeled by their diagnosis. This type of attitude facilitates stigma and dehumanization, which lead to poor treatment and lack of the support these individuals really need.

Family members need to be supportive and effectively advocate and care for their loved ones with mental illness.

The first step in providing support is to seek knowledge regarding the type of illness the individual is facing, the symptoms, and ways to aid in the management of symptoms. The next step involves understanding that passing judgment and placing blame is futile and only leads to alienation of the people that could be the individual’s only source of support.

Instead, try to be empathetic and avoid diminishing their symptoms as if the ill person is able to simply control them. I often hear these discouraging comments: “Cheer up, stop worrying so much, you don’t need to depend on medications.”

The belief that someone can control their mental illness is destructive and creates additional layers of pain and shame for the individual. Also, it is most important to understand that these individuals are not their mental illness. Oftentimes I hear people say, “He’s schizophrenic; she’s bipolar, and he’s OCD.” These are human beings coping with a mental illness. This labeling reinforces the individuals’ weaknesses rather than empowering them to manage their symptoms.

It is important to understand that mental illness, like many other diseases, cannot simply be controlled by sheer will power and may require a multitude of treatment options — not just medications. Individuals facing a mental illness can lead successful and productive lives, especially with support and compassion from their loved ones. Instead of intensifying their struggle, try to understand what they are going through.

The time to make this change is now. Educate yourself, share your knowledge with others and become an informed supporter and advocate.

 

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