In my experience, I have found there to be a negative social stigma associated with mental illness and it is a stigma ladened in blame, shame and misperceptions. I have also found there to be a real lack of formal support for those dealing with or supporting others through a mental illness crisis.
One of the first challenges that I encountered when my son was hospitalized was how others received the news of the situation. It was somewhat surprising to me that mental illness was viewed differently than other life threatening illnesses. There was a true obvious discomfort felt from many who were privy to our situation and even more than that; there was a silence that was deafening.The truth is that most people don’t know how to respond or react to mental illness.
There is also a significant amount of blame that comes with a mental illness diagnosis. Yes, people blame. With mental illness blame is prevalent and directed both inwardly and outwardly because there is a misconception that someone or something must be the cause. When the diagnosis is mental illness, many times parents blame each other. The doctors, therapists and outsiders tend to suspect the parents are to blame. Often families go searching for the culprit and behind the scenes, many parents deeply blame themselves; there seems to be more than enough blame to go around.
In my personal story, I found myself caught off guard with the sudden onset of my son’s illness and spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how it could have happened, what I had done or contributed to cause it and how I could make it better. Even though I had been there for my son, supported, loved, cheered on, celebrated and actively parented him, it still took me some time before I could stop pointing the finger at myself.
What made it more challenging was that when I went searching for support, there was little to be found. I really found this disheartening, especially because as I sat in Emergency rooms, waiting rooms and program assessments, I saw so many parents, many who seemed to be in the same emotional state as me, and I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more support options available. I kept feeling that personally it would help so much if I could talk with other parents who were going through similar experiences. Yet no one was talking. I reached out through my personal support circles and a few times felt that I was close to finding someone who understood what I was going through, to talk with. Each time a possible contact was identified, the answer that came back was “no”. One response that truly drove home my understanding of the secrecy surrounding mental illness came from an acupuncturist who was trying to help connect me with another client, “I asked my client, who is having a similar experience to yours, if she would want to meet for coffee to talk, but she said no, she doesn’t talk about her situation openly, in fact even her close friends do not know”
This is not something that we should go through alone and living in secrecy about the situation hurts everyone. If you are dealing with a mental health situation, it is imperative that you create a support “group” around you. I found that while I didn’t find much support with those experiencing my same situation, it was very helpful and healing to find support through talk therapy, healing modalities such as acupuncture or massage and focusing on finding fun each day, even if for small moments. I also found that exercise, for me yoga and running, were and are extremely helpful in keeping me healthy given the circumstances.
Telling my story is very healing and finding those who are willing to hear it is critical. Sometimes, I tell my story even when it makes others uncomfortable because it needs to be told.
There are a few support organizations that I am aware of that do provide specific support for families experiencing a mental illness crisis. Nationally, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) www.nami.org can help you find local support groups in your area. Also, city/state government have Office of Mental Health (OMH) organizations that can be a good resource. Services and agencies appear to differ by State and county. (USA based information)
For more information on specific resource ideas or for a safe place to share your story, please email me at FarFromParadiseblog@gmail.com