How to accept and be thankful for people with mental illness

A former client recently sent me an article from the Huffington Post. It looked at how we can better love, accept and support those of our friends and families who struggle with mental illness.  This topic is very important to me. It’s not only because I work with those suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, but because I know firsthand the challenges of dealing with mental illness in one’s family.

I grew up in a family with a mother who had Bipolar Disorder. She struggled for many years with dramatic swings from tremendous sadness to unanticipated mania.  It was a difficult emotional roller coaster for my mother and our family.

Unfortunately, there was and continues to be an unrepentant stigma associated with mental illness. It’s one that deserves some examination and discussion.

Helping loved ones with mental illness

Healthy Living Editor, Lindsay Holmes, offers some suggestions for helping those with mental illness.  Mental illness is an illness, just like diabetes or cancer.

Depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders are not indicators the individual is “crazy”. Still, this term has often been used to describe those who struggle with these issues.  Depression is an illness in the brain due to fluctuating chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

It is not an illness an individual can simply “get over” or should “snap out of”. Believe me, they would if they could.  Maybe we need to work on developing a greater level of compassion and understanding for those who are mentally ill. Let’s leave the old, judgmental, and insensitive terms of the past behind us.

It’s the illness, not the person

While many days are a struggle for those with mental illness, some days are better than others.  The individual may be able to function fine one day and the next, have difficulty getting out of bed, eating or managing their basic hygiene.

The ups and downs in their moods are usually not because of us or anything we have or haven’t done.  More difficult days are usually due to shifting brain chemistry that causes changes in moods and sometimes, behavior.

There is good news

Treatment has come a long way since the sixties when professionals treated severe mental illnesses with tranquilizers. Then came the advent of Lithium, a naturally occurring salt we have in our bodies.  Lithium proved to be and continues to be the first line treatment option for those suffering from Bipolar illness.  While other mood stabilizers have come along (i.e.-Tegretol, Depakote, Lamictal), Lithium has shown to provide some relief from acute episodes of mania or depression.

There is a myriad of medications for those who struggle with severe depression. Fortunately, current research is focusing on developing antidepressants that can start to work faster. Today it can take 4-6 weeks for treatments to start working.

Additional treatment options include:

  • yoga and exercise
  • meditation
  • journaling
  • support groups

Supportive psychotherapy may offer cognitive behavioral strategies for learning coping skills that can help to manage mood fluctuations.

End the stigma

There continues to be a significant stigma associated with those who have mental health disorders.  Some clients have spoken about this and their feelings of being misunderstood, judged unfairly or looked down upon by family members or friends who purportedly love them.

Ms. Holmes states that only 25% of individuals with mental illness believe that others are sufficiently compassionate or understanding.  It is time to make a change on this front. We must show others who struggle with depression or other mental health issues that we care, think about, sometimes worry about, and love them.

Stand with me in showing support for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, or mental health challenges.  Call a family member or friend who may be depressed. Offer to take them out for coffee or a movie, ask if you can do anything to help them, tell them you care and offer a hug.

Thanksgiving 2015

As I reflect on the current year, my practice, and family, I am ever so thankful for my family of origin. I’m grateful for the close ties we shared in spite of the challenges of my mother’s mental illness.  The blessings of my life have been immeasurable. But I believe I am most thankful for the wonderful gift of my mother and the tremendous love she gave to her family.  My family, friends, work life, faith, and good health are among my areas of gratitude this year.

What are your Thanksgiving blessings this year?

No matter the challenges you are currently facing, I’m sure you can find some good, even great blessings to be thankful for this year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Linda Cook,