Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How mental illnes affects family dynamics


Living with a loved one suffering with a mental illness can take a lot of understanding and support, working together to find a healthy way to cope.
Gretchen Mullin, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Addictions Professional in Tampa Bay, Florida, knows the biggest challenge for families is to understand the specific condition afflicting their loved one.
“Mental illness impacts behaviors and thinking patterns,” Gretchen says.  When observable behavior or cognitive changes occur as a result of a mental illness, it can be confusing, alarming, and even scary for the entire family.”

In her own practice, Gretchen sees how important it is for patients to receive an accurate diagnosis from a qualified professional.  This, in conjunction with psychoeducation, which offers training to patients and their families, can help ease the struggle of dealing with a mental illness as a family.  
American Psychological Association
Another challenge faced by families is readjusting expectations.  This is especially true for parents of children dealing with a mental illness.  The American Psychological Association says that regulating hopes and expectations for the future is part of the process, and that it is normal for relatives to experience grief and confusion.
For example, families dealing with a mental illness find it easy to become frustrated with the afflicted person.  When a loved one is dealing with depression, for example, it may be easy to say “just pull yourself together and get moving.”  Gretchen finds this to be one of the most common mistakes made in families dealing with a mental illness diagnosis.
image description“The best way to rectify this is [to receive an] appropriate diagnosis and subsequent treatment for all parties,” Gretchen said.  “Psychotherapy and appropriate support groups for both family members and the diagnosed individual are pertinent in total recovery.  Equally important is that the family learns appropriate communication skills to discuss symptoms and symptoms management.”
While treating patients and their families, Gretchen tends to run into a common issue: Relatives often do not understand that a mental illness is a medical condition, no different than heart disease or diabetes.  The brain not functioning properly, she explains, causes mental illnesses.  Like any other health condition, the majority of mental health conditions are very treatable, but aren’t something the afflicted person can just ‘shake off’.
She says, “People diagnosed with a mental illness can live a fulfilling and meaningful life once treatment is sought.”

Although living with a mental illness is challenging, there are many resources to help families thrive.
Nami National Alliance on Mental Illness
Triscia Hennessy is a member of the  National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and a Family to Family NAMI educator.  She’s also the mother of a daughter suffering from borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression.  Her personal experience with mental illnesses stresses the importance of seeking help.
NAMI is the nation’s largest mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.  As a NAMI educator, Triscia believes family members may become depressed, detached, or even aggressive when coping with an afflicted loved one.
She says, “I can’t stress enough the need for what NAMI calls ‘self-care’, to help families get through life with a mental illness in the family.”
Family members must take care of themselves during this process.  It is common for them to experience anxiety, a need for reassurance, fatigue and exhaustion.  On their website, NAMI suggests that caregivers pay attention to their own physical and emotional health.  Understanding how stress affects families dealing with a mental illness is key in maintaining optimal health.  
Common physical signs of stress include headaches, low energy, insomnia, and upset stomach.
A mental illness diagnosis can be frightening and confusing for everyone, but there is support and resources that help families cope and thrive.  

If your loved one has been diagnosed with a mental illness, please seek support from your healthcare practitioner or any of the following resources.

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