If you read the Breaking Bipolar blog over at HealthyPlace you might have seen a question earlier this week:
People have come down on both sides of this question on HealthyPlace and on Facebook but I think the overarching sentiment is that addiction is not just another mental illness as personal choices lead to its existence. No one causes bipolar disorder or schizophrenia through action but no one puts a drink in an alcoholic’s hand and forces them to imbibe. Moreover, addiction recovery is considerably simpler in that addicts get better by choosing not to use substances while other mental illness treatment involves months of treatment before any turnaround is seen and typically involves lifelong treatment. For addicts who are also suffering from a mental illness they are usually entered into an in-patient dual-diagnosis rehab program.
But whether you think that addiction (or, more specifically substance abuse and substance dependence) is simply another mental illness or not, there is this question:
- Should funds intended to be used on serious mental illness be used for addiction treatment?
It’s extremely difficult to tell someone you have a mental illness. No one really likes a conversation that’s along the lines, of, “Hi. How’s the family? Did you know I have a possibly fatal, lifelong condition?”
It’s kind of a bummer.
But telling someone you have a mental illness is hard on the person you tell too. It’s not just hard to give the news; it’s hard to receive it. In fact, most people have no idea what to say upon hearing that someone has a mental illness. They may not know anything about the mental illness or only know what the media tells them – that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and scary. And while that may not be accurate, if it’s the only thing the person has ever heard, you can’t really blame them for acting negatively – at least initially.
So if someone tells you they have a mental illness, what should you do?
The Problem with Online Support Groups
Recently a reader wrote into me and told me that online bipolar support groups scared the stuffing out of her. In her words:
. . . is it really that bleak? IS there a place to find support and encouragement and practical advice that isn’t so dire – comment after comment about divorce, violence, anger and mania…. I just need some perspective.
I feel for this reader. She is trying to support her significant other with bipolar disorder and she is finding that the supports are more harmful than helpful.
There is a lot of help available for people with a mental illness. There are hotlines, mental health resource locators, therapists, doctors and many others. And yet, many people with a mental illness continue to live every day with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses without getting help.
And what’s worse is that we know that by not getting help, or by delaying help, the course of the overall illness and outcome is worse.
So why don’t people get help for mental illness?
I woke up one morning in 1994 crushed with depression. The first thing I thought of that morning was how much I wanted to kill myself, and if I couldn’t do that, then how much I wanted to hurt myself. I kept cutting implements and bandages near my bed just in case the feelings were too much to bear.
Of course, this was like every morning of my 16-year-old life. I was depressed, but I didn’t know it. I only knew that I wanted to die. I needed to die. I needed it like most people needed breath. And I knew that no one understood.
Continued from part one of How to Tell Someone They Have a Mental Illness.
Thirdly, I recommend printing out information about the disorder for the person. There are plenty of resources online that will tell you the basics about a disorder and if you have this information ready, the person with the illness doesn’t have to go searching for it. Books are another good option. But know the person with the mental illness may use this information in dribs and drabs as information overload is a real possibility and will help no one.
Fourthly, look up places and ways the person can get help. There’s no point in pointing out a problem if you can’t offer a solution. In this case the solution is help. The easiest place to get help is your family doctor so maybe you could make an appointment for the person. You family doctor can do an initial assessment and refer the person to the appropriate person (probably a psychiatrist) for a full evaluation.
Additionally, there are all sorts of mental health and addiction related resources available and they are listed by location here.
When someone has a mental illness it can be very difficult for them to see it. The very nature of a brain illness is such that the brain itself has a hard time recognizing it. We are often so wrapped up in the symptoms that we can’t see that what we’re really suffering from is an illness and not just a bad day, bad week or bad month. This is to say nothing of anosognosia, the clinical condition wherein people don’t possess the insight necessary to understand that they are sick.
Sometimes Others Can See We Have a Mental Illness
So sometimes the people around us are the ones that realize we’re sick before we do. Sometimes it’s our loved ones that can clearly see a pattern of behavior that goes beyond unusual into pathological.
But if you know someone who you suspect has a mental illness, how do you tell them?
As I mentioned, a friend of mine attempted suicide last Friday. His life was saved by his friends, the police and hospital staff. I’m grateful his suicide attempt was not successful.
But one of the oddest things about this scenario is after the suicide attempt he was not hospitalized. The hospital stabilized and released him. Just like that. No psychiatric hold. No psychiatric treatment. Nothing.
What the hell is up with that?
I get emails and messages now and then from people asking what to do about their mentally ill loved one. They want to convince their loved one to get help for a mental illness.
These people are in the unenviable position of watching someone they love be sick. And the unfortunate thing about mental illness is that when you confront it, it doesn’t like it very much.
You are trying to tell someone their brain is sick and expecting their sick brain to comprehend and agree with that.
It’s kind of a tall order.
And the thoughts I have on the matter don’t really make the issue sparkle either. Because let’s face it, the person either listens to you or they don’t, and really, they have the right to do either one. Here’s a bit of reality on convincing a loved one to get help for a mental illness.
And for the record, even if you don’t immediately succeed, many of us first hear about our mental illness from a friend, but sometimes that takes a while to sink in.
Once you’ve read this article, you might also want to check out this book for many more ideas about convincing someone to get help for a mental illness.