We’ve all seen the cutesy pillows and canvas frames announcing that “We don’t hide our crazy – we put it on the porch and give it a cocktail.”
This decidedly Southern approach to coping with mental illness is fantastic in that it embraces the fact that mental illness exists. But sadly, the reality is that most responses to mental illness consist of stereotypes and prejudices that produce a cloud of stigma surrounding what is a manageable medical condition.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In hopes of dispeling some myths and changing attitudes, here are some things to know about mental illness.
Mental illness comprises a wide array of conditions that range from general anxiety disorders and depression to more severe and persistent types including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and personality disorders. It is common for some individuals to have more than one type of mental illness.
Often, people with untreated mental illness turn to illegal substances and alcohol to cope with bothersome, or negative, symptoms of mental illness. Untreated mental illness combined with drugs and alcohol can lead to a number of poor outcomes, such as hospitalization, jail or suicide attempts.
The absolute best way to reduce the discrimination and stigma around mental illness is knowledge. If you have been recently diagnosed with a mental illness, get educated about your diagnosis.
If a family member has a mental illness, educate yourself so that you can offer support.
A large part of recovery is the right medication and medication compliance. Taking prescribed medication as directed allows for effective symptom management – if you had diabetes wouldn’t you commit to insulin management to control symptoms? It is exactly the same with mental illness. Most mental illnesses are highly manageable, allowing for an individual to live a full life.
Another very important aspect of recovery and successful symptom management is psychosocial support and rehabilitation. This is basically a fancy and official phrase for avoiding isolation.
Isolation while symptomatic can be very detrimental to positive mental health.
Finding a qualified psychosocial rehabilitation program can help with diagnosis education, medication accountability, socialization and goal setting.
For individuals recently discharged from a hospital setting and grappling with a new diagnosis, coming to a supportive psychosocial setting can help them master crucial skills in problem solving, healthy coping mechanisms, stress management and personal care.
Additionally, effective communication, money management, nutrition, exercise and other living skills are usually offered as part of a program. Being a part of a strong and supportive psychosocial program can diminish feelings of isolation, loneliness and helplessness.
A mental illness diagnosis does not instantly condemn an individual to a life of strange, sideways glances from people, or being shunned by society. A mental illness is a manageable medical condition affecting brain chemistry.
Mental Health America, a national non-profit committed to positive mental health, estimates that 1 in 5 adults have experienced some type of mental illness in the past year. Mental health issues are not rare or wrong. If you, or someone in your family, have been struggling with negative mental health, get help. Education, medication and psychosocial support can change your life.
Jessica Bender is the executive director of Mental Health America of Beaufort & Jasper County, which offers psychosocial rehabilitation at Island House. mhaislandhouse.com