The website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that “…one in four adults — approximately 57.7 million Americans — experience a mental health disorder in a given year… and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder.” Given these statistics, it seems likely that most families have at least some experience with mental illness of some sort. Finding out that a loved one has schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder or any other form of mental illness can be terrifying and overwhelming. Feelings of shame, guilt, anger, frustration and sadness are all likely to surface, and all are understandable.
Perhaps most important at first is educating yourself about the illness as knowledge truly is power. I sometimes encounter families who have learned very little about their loved one’s condition, and I believe that often stems from a fear of the unknown. Reading about the illness is invaluable, as is talking with others who are experiencing similar issues. I often refer to family members as “the silent sufferers.” As the focus is rightfully on getting help for the person in need, too often the needs of the family get overlooked. In addition to not forgetting the importance for sleep, a healthy diet, and pleasurable activities, getting your own counseling may also be very beneficial. Not only can counseling help to provide you with ways to best help yourself, but it can also aid you in better assisting your loved one.
Very few people are ever truly prepared to learn that a family member is suffering from a mental illness. This can lead to serious conflict amongst family members who may engage in counterproductivite activities such as blaming one another. Most psychiatric disorders are, however, very complicated and the cause usually lies in a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
Questions about where to get help, education, housing, finances, and insurance are just some of the many issues people will often face, and understandably may find too overwhelming to deal with alone. While the stigma of mental illness may be less today than it was years ago, there is no doubt that it still does exist. It is one reason why so many people do not seek treatment, and why so many families struggle in isolation. Yet, there are many valuable resources available, whether in the form of support groups, treatment providers, and online information. No one should have to suffer in silence. Support and advocacy organizations such as The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (dbsalliance.org), The International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (ocfoundation.org), The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (adaa.org) and NAMI (namisanmateo.org) are truly just a click away.
– Scott M. Granet
Scott Granet, LCSW is a long-time resident of Redwood Shores, and is director of the OCD-BDD Clinic of Northern California in Redwood City. He would like to hear your suggestions for future columns, and can be reached at 650-599-3325 or .