Facts About Mental Illness

  • Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. Like a thyroid disorder and diabetes, they must be treated medically and have nothing to do with moral fortitude.
  • 1 in 4 American families has a loved one with a serious brain disorder.
  • Family members suffer along with the individual who experiences the illness.
  • Of those affected by mental illness, 50% will experience the onset of the brain disorder before the age of 15.
  • Over 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated or improperly treated brain disorders.
  • Stigma surrounding mental illness prevents people from seeking treatment.
  • Recovery is possible with appropriate medications, counseling, and supportive services.

Things that Need to Happen for Families to Recover

Get Beyond Initial Denial

  • Severe depression, severe anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are brain disorders.  They are illnesses just like heart disease or diabetes.  Remember your loved one is ill and needs the proper medical attention.

Become Educated About Your Family Members Illness And Medications

  • Ask questions of APPROPRIATE people.
  • Read the numerous books written by people who struggle with these brain disorders and by professionals in the mental health field.
  • Take a course on brain disorders.
  • Join a support group.

Learn How To Support Your Family Member

As families, you need information about the following:

  • How to minimize relapse/risk for relapse (know your family member’s coping skills)
  • How to respond when there is a crisis (CRISIS PLAN). Get this into the service plan.
  • How to determine realistic goals and expectations
  • How to help him/her manage stress
  • How to deal with specific behavior (hallucinations, delusions, substance abuse, poor hygiene, bizarre behavior in public, etc.)
  • How to COMMUNICATE (things to do/say and things not to do/say)

Develop Skills For Dealing With Mental Health Professionals

  • Whenever possible, talk over the problems with the service provider who is most directly involved.
  • Request meetings when you feel the need. Communicate concerns calmly and clearly.
  • Develop a good relationship and open communication with key individuals who are providing services to your relative.
  • Let people know that you appreciate their efforts.

Take Care Of Yourself. Develop Your Own Coping Skills

  • How to maintain a life separate from your ill relative
  • How to deal with the emotional impact, e.g., loss, grief and guilt
  • How to manage YOUR stress

Connect With Other Families

  • Support groups.
  • Educational classes focusing on mental illness.

Learn How To Advocate For Yourself And Your Family Member (and Others)

  • System changes
  • Political advocacy

Learn How To “Let Go”

  • Doesn’t mean stop caring and supporting
  • Recognize when a crisis is over and let your family member take control of their own lives

Learn To Forgive

  • Yourself for things you say or do that are not helpful to your family member
  • Your family member for things s/he does that may feel hurtful but are a result of the mental illness

(Taken from the FACES family education class, edited 4/2012)