One disease that carries the worst stigma is mental illness. Families do not wish to acknowledge that a family member has a mental illness. The stigma runs so deep that society disapproves of someone mentally ill. As much as researchers and organizations have shed light on mental sickness, it is almost a taboo story to talk about, especially if it relates closely to family.
Listen to the cry for help from one having depression. ‘At first, I didn’t know I was ill. There were periods of great sadness and sudden bouts of happiness for me. I wanted to be left alone. I locked myself in my room for a long time. One day, I cried uncontrollably for a long time. One family member was so concerned that she urged me to see a doctor. As you can guess, the diagnosis is that I have depression. That was the hardest thing for my family and me to accept. But I finally got the help I needed from the doctors. After years of going through the acceptance and coping stages, it’s still our family secret. Even when I lapse back into bouts of depression, whenever an outsider asks, my family says I am sick but not depressed.’
It’s not uncommon to hear similar experiences from different people. However, the stigma causes great harm to those who have a mental illness. One essential element that society has to accept is that it is not the fault of the person suffering. It is a disease that needs to be acknowledged. Those going through the pain of suffering from mental health also have to accept that it is a disease that needs treatment, careful research, and learning to cope with it.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues came to the forefront. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in the United States alone, in 2020, 52.9 million adults had ‘any kind of mental illness,’ which is 21% of all the adults in the United States. The most affected are the youth aged between 18 to 25 years, who made up 30.6% of those diagnosed with any mental illness.
Mental disorders can range from mild to severe sickness. These disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, clinical bulimia and anorexia, schizophrenia, alcohol disorder, and drug abuse disorder. None of us is immune to mental disorders, be it from hereditary genes, great external stress, illness or trauma, etc.
How Can You Help Those Close To You?
Recognize the symptoms
The earlier a person receives help from doctors, the more they will cope with their situation and carry out a tentatively ‘normal life’ as society puts it. A doctor’s intervention on early signs of a mental illness might deter a major or more severe mental state. So, what common collective symptoms might reflect that one close to you might suffer from mental illness?
- Mood swings – Swift and dramatic emotional changes from hyper or high excitement to bouts of sadness
- Loss of interest in activities – apathy and loss of interest in any activity at school or work and finding it difficult to perform tasks that were familiar to them.
- Constant Self- inflicted Isolation: – Withdrawal from friends, family, or any social activity that the person previously enjoyed doing.
- Rapid Weight Changes – Rapid fluctuating weight gain and loss might be another sign of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
- Substance Abuse – Abuse of substances such as alcohol and drug addiction affects one’s behavior and brain. It thus is a mental disorder. The abuser cannot control their use of alcohol, legal or illegal drugs, or prescribed medication.
- Suicidal Behavior – A person suffering from depression, anxiety, or others might feel worthlessness, constantly blaming or criticizing themselves. When the feeling of worthlessness increases, they might have suicidal thoughts. Some may make minor cuts on their wrists.
Listen and Be Available
It is not all who suffer from a mental illness that remains silent. Some want to talk to others without being judged. As a supportive family member or friend, listen to them without judging them. Let them know you are there to support them through what they might go through. Listening to and supporting them is an ongoing process that requires patience and fortitude. Research more information about the mental disorder your family member or friend faces. Understanding their situation and what others in similar circumstances are going through is a big step in being supportive and not judgmental.
Encourage Them to Seek Medical Advice
Most people who have a mental disorder at first may not notice the change in their behavior and might not easily welcome treatment. Offer to accompany them to see a doctor or specifically a psychiatrist. It might not be easy for the one suffering to accept their condition even after the doctor diagnoses them as having a mental disorder. Offer to keep accompanying them for their initial or ongoing appointments. Ensure that they keep taking their medication as prescribed by the doctor.
Those in the mental profession, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, increasingly recommend the importance of having a family-based treatment program. These doctors acknowledge that when a family member is present, they understand the situation their loved one is facing and the treatment needed for the patient and family to function better. A family member can thus help the patient adhere to a treatment program.
Recognizing the cry for help and understanding from the mentally ill goes a long way in their treatment. Researchers say that behavior disorders and brain illnesses are treatable. Family members, friends, workmates, and schoolmates can all contribute to lessen the stigma and encourage those suffering to seek early medical attention and not endure a mental disorder in silence. It is scary. It can bring about bouts of shame. Remember that none of us is immune to mental illness. Lessening the stigma and giving helpful support goes miles in building hope and a better way to cope with life for those having a mental illness.