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.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the 10 to 24-year-old age group in Virginia, which is 6% higher than the national average.
  • 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

  • Disbelief

Become Educated About Your Family Members Illness And Medications

  • Ask questions of APPROPRIATE people.
  • Take a course on brain disorders.

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, WRAP). 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., grief and guilt
  • How to manage YOUR stress

Connect With Other Families

  • Support groups

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

  • Systems 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)