The term “knowledge is power" is a very true when it comes to caregiving. Knowledge about at the illness or infirmity is crucial to being in control. This fact became clear to me as I learned about psychosis, then schizophrenia, then OCD, and then extreme anxiety. Understanding these various illnesses helped me to understand how best to deal with the symptoms that arose, and provide the best care possible.
I found, though, that learning about the illnesses was only the start. I also had to learn about the mental health system, and how to communicate with the medical professionals. Researching what resources were available in my community was also vital.
SUGGESTION: – Learn all that you can about every aspect of mental illness.
STRATEGY: – Attend family support meetings, enlist the aid of people with experience and mental health staff
There are two main components to education:
In order to help you cope, one of the most important factors is educating yourself about Mental Illness and the Mental Health system in your community.
Research - The internet is an awesome place to find lots of good information. The only issue is to make sure that the sites are providing good information. Any information that radically disagrees with the main medical establishment websites should be considered questionable until proven by authoritative sources or by proven practice/evidence.
Take Courses - There are many courses available, for recommendations ask your local mental health clinic or contact the websites listed on the Links page. I found the BCSS "Strengthening Families Together" to be an excellent course.
Become Involved - Join a family support group and/or volunteer in your community to help other people with mental health issues. While education for yourself is important, it is equally important to educate other people, or at least help them to understand the true nature of mental illness. There is a huge misunderstanding, stigma, and discrimination around mental illness which needs to be fixed. People suffering from mental illness are still people, they just happen to have an illness, just like someone with heart disease, cancer, and many other medical conditions have an illness. Treatment is available for mental illness and recovery happens!
Why educate other people? After all, mental illness has carried with it a significant stigma and fear over the years, and it is a very personal illness. The fact is that if you are able to educate other people then it could provide you with some support or relief in a time of need.
Please bear in mind that before discussing your loved one's illness with others you should attempt to get "buy-in" from your loved one. The recovery process can be enhanced by the knowledgeable support of friends and family members who can respond with the compassion deserved. (Having a support network is a huge factor in recovery).
In my opinion, there are several good reasons for bringing psychosis into the open and educating others. In fact, I consider it to be essential: The more people understand, the more they can help the actual recovery process.
• The more people understand, the more they can help dispel the myths and stigma.
• The more people understand, the more chance that funding and research will improve.
• The more people understand the easier it will be for you to bear the burden.
Let's look at these issues in a little more depth.
1. Psychosis affects many, many people. Figures given by the mental health community show that greater than three percent of the population will experience a psychotic episode in their lifetime, and about one percent will develop schizophrenia. But what do most people really know about mental illnesses, and how to handle psychosis? Do they, for example, understand that people suffering a psychotic episode are often very scared, disoriented and are more of a danger to themselves than to others? I believe that quite often when problems occur, street drugs or attitude and behavior problems are immediately suspected rather than a mental illness. And how effective can it be trying to handle someone when you have a misguided idea of what the problem is. Instead of disdain and discipline - compassion and caring could be required. (How successful can treatment be if the initial diagnosis is wrong?) So how does education help in the recovery process? Psychosis is a neuro-biological condition which occurs in episodes. Current thinking backed up by increasing evidence, suggests that early diagnosis and treatment greatly reduces relapse and the level of permanent damage to the brain. Accordingly, the more that people understand how to recognize early psychosis, about how they can best deal with someone experiencing a psychotic episode, and about what they can do to help, the more they can assist with the recovery process.
2. We all know the way that mental illnesses have been unfairly portrayed in the film and news media in the past; Psychotic killers creating fear, institutions full of crazy people providing laughter and people with multiple personalities betraying our trust. These portrayals have helped to create myths and stigma's which can seriously impede people who are suffering from psychosis from re-entering society. Certainly, there are often grains of truth or reality upon which the movies and news reports are based, but the sensationalism and hype betray the more common sad truths of the real illnesses. For example one of the most common misconceptions is that schizophrenia means split personality. This is not the case, and only education can help correct this and other misconceptions. Schizophrenia is actually a split from reality. Where does the real problem of the stigma attached to mental health lie? Unfortunately, it is that many people may hide the fact that they or a family member suffer from mental illness, and not get the help that is available. Some may be embarrassed or fearful that people will associate the illness with them, and that they will be ostracized or treated differently. Let us educate as many people to the truths of mental illness as we can, so that sufferers and their families will be able to get all the help and compassion that they deserve.
3. Most illnesses and medical conditions get tremendous funding and research opportunities, both from the government and from the private sector. This funding and research have a large impact on the level and quality of treatments and cures. Not all illnesses and medical conditions receive the same levels of funding, especially from the general population. The reasons for the different levels of funding are as varied as the illnesses involved. These reasons can be things like the prevalence of the illness, the severity, the communicability, the cost to the health care system and a hundred other reasons.
I feel though that one of the main reasons is the 'popularity' or media attention given to the illness or condition. For example, cancer, heart disease, MS and many other illnesses are funded at a far greater level than Mental Illness - even though for example mental illness is 1.4 times the burden of Cancer on the Canadian economy.
By educating more and more people about the truths of mental illness and the devastation it can cause, especially if it is left untreated, awareness can be raised and hopefully an increase in private and government funding and research dollars will become available.
I have read that "While mental illnesses constitute more than 15% of the burden of disease in Canada, these illnesses receive only 5.5 percent of the health care dollars".
4. If people understand the illness and some of the circumstances surrounding it, then they will be able to understand and allow for inconsistencies in your life. As a parent of a person with mental illness your life will be disrupted during times of crisis, you will need to adjust your schedules or availability. You will not always be operating at your normal level, your thoughts will be with your loved ones rather than on your job and you may need allowances to take care of priorities. Employers and co-workers will be able to understand why you may not always be available or particularly joyful. They will be able to show caring and compassion instead of impatience and frustration, they will be able to ease your burden by helping in small ways rather than criticizing. Just to have people aware of why you are the way you are right now, is a help in itself. One of the important considerations, of course, is how much do you tell about your personal situation and to who? With practice and learning, you will hopefully uncover novel and interesting ways to educate people about mental illness without having to let them into your personal business. Initially, you may have to tread carefully because of the stigma's attached (many of which may only be in your own mind), but remember the statistics quoted at the beginning of this page; you are not alone and you will find there really are a lot of compassionate and caring people around you.
I trust that my experiences can help and guide you in some of your decisions regarding psychosis.
I do however counsel you to get medical help from competent professionals who are up to date with current treatment methods.