If you read my recent blog post, Song for My Father, then you will have an idea of how beneficial it was for me to have his support when I was in the throes of my active Bipolar Disorder condition. I consider myself very fortunate to have someone who was so willing to help me when I was unable to help myself. My mother was supportive in her own way. She was the textbook example of “tough love.” She didn’t stand for any crap,
But as I said, I was fortunate. Some families experience a great deal of dysfunction due to their loved one’s mental illness and/or addiction. It’s been known to tear some families apart. Sometimes the affected person’s actions are so unpredictable, and even at times dangerous, that family members have no choice but to set strong boundaries about what is expected from the person.
In both my professional career and personal interactions with people who are successful in their recovery, one thing is clear. The more supportive the family the better. This is not to say that things are always as smooth a glass; in fact this often is not the case. However, in the long run, if family members are accepting and willing to help then there may be a better outcome.
One of the keys to family understanding and support is education. Psychoeducation can be extremely valuable when it comes to learning why the family’s loved one is undergoing such a difficult experience. There are any number of programs and supports for families. My primary go to is NAMI (National Alliance on MentalI Illness). NAMI is one of the United States oldest grass roots advocacy organizations. Comprised primarily of families of those living with mental health disorders as well as peers, NAMI provides many services including an educational program (Family-to-Family and In Our Own Voice), support groups, as well as a number of online resources and programs such as NAMI Faithnet and NAMI on Campus NAMI’s online information is all supported by research and vetted by mental health professionals. There is a TON of information that can be of use to anyone who may want a good introduction to mental health.
Another great resource is Mental Health America, another U.S.-based advocacy organization. The MHA has information on local affiliates that have a variety of support groups, including those for families. There’s also a resource page that provides information on a variety of mental health supports.
Over the years I’ve had conversations with family members of a person struggling with a mental health disorder or addiction that are at their wits end about what to do to help their loved one. And to be truthful, there have been times when the best I could do was to listen. Sometimes just having a place to vent without being judged can be helpful. So often families too suffer in silence. The stigma associated with mental illness and addiction can be crushing to the point where the fear of disclosure suppresses any desire to seek help. But this cannot be a barrier to seeking help. For instance, joining a support group can go a long way to help ease the burden of caring for someone who is struggling by hearing from others who have had similar experiences.
In the end, my personal belief is that we must exhaust all possible resources before we decide to withdraw care from our loved one. You just never know when s/he may turn the corner, whether it be by finding the proper combination of medications or is connected with an effective therapist. Also, for young people, sometimes it is a matter of maturity and acceptance of their condition to help with the realization that there is hope.
This was certainly the case for me.
So if your loved one is struggling, remember that no one asks to be born with a mental health challenge or addiction disorder. For the vast majority, they want relief from their condition just as much as you do.
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