The negative stereotyping or stigma associated with mental illness is significant. I have touched upon this subject in several places and it deserves mention again here. There are many anti-stigma campaigns running every year and hopefully, these are beginning to have a positive effect. My daughter feels the impact of stigma much more than I do because I can correct people's perception if I encounter stigma. For my daughter, it is still such a blow to her self-esteem, that she does not always have the confidence to overcome it. She does a lot of public speaking and tries to enlighten people how damaging the stigma can be.
Self-reflection allowed me to see where I was out of touch and helped to put me on the right track of modifying my thoughts and behaviors. It did not take long: I just knew I had to change. Self-reflection can be done pretty much anywhere at any time. It is a deep soul-searching look at yourself. You can evaluate what is going good and what not so good. You can reflect on your views and opinions and ask yourself are they still valid? You can just reflect on just one subject or your whole life. The time that worked best for me was when I was at my wits end. It was a way of saying to myself enough is enough. I needed to adapt to survive and changed a lot of my preconceived ideas to fit the new reality.
Self-care is very often the last consideration for caregivers. I have seen this time and time again at family support meetings, and I have heard all the excuses. It is something I talk about often because it was significant in my life when I actually started taking care of myself. Taking a break helps you to provide better support because you are less stressed. Many people though, do not take this seriously. Some people think that they the not the issue and there are more important things to focus on. This is so wrong. I will only say that if you do nothing else, take care of yourself because it is absolutely essential.
Mental illness is a very real illness that is not a choice, is often long term, and can be acute and episodic.
Reality - I have to be understanding and empathetic as my daughter and I fight this battle together. I try to understand the situation from my daughter’s perspective, accepting she is probably a lot more scared and frustrated than I am.
Reality -There is no place for candy coating or underestimating the impact on the family, it is real, it can be extremely tough and disruptive to family life.
Reality - it is the illness causing all the upset and not the person.
Reality - Understanding that a child is the same sweet angel that they were on their 5th birthday, a spouse is the same loving person that you were in love with on your honeymoon.
Reality - It is the illness that is causing them to act irrationally.
Respect is having due regard for someone or something. This can mean having a true regard for a person's feelings, wishes or rights. It is valid for everyone regardless of ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or any other unique status. It also applies to people with a mental illness and they deserve to be respected just like everyone else. I have put this here because I have witnessed many occasions where people with a mental illness have not been shown respect in the community. I am not surprised by this considering stigma and some public attitudes about mental illness, but it is sad to see
Recovery in mental health terms is a process of regaining a purposeful life. Much can be lost through mental illness including; social life, financial stability, cognitive functioning, family relationships, employment, accommodation, self-esteem. All these things contribute to a purposeful life and may take some time to recover, and may also recover to varying degrees. Recovery is not necessarily a total return to a level of functioning as it was before the illness. It is the ability for a person to be able to cope, function, and serve a worthwhile purpose with their life, while possibly still experiencing some symptoms.
There is also Family Peer Support. This primarily takes the form of a family member who has experienced having a loved one with a mental illness lending an empathetic ear, sharing knowledge and strategies that they have found successful, and helping to find community resources. Just having someone who has been there themselves listen to your issues with compassion, can be a significant stress relief. Someone who is nonjudgmental, who can share possible ways for you to handle issues that arise, or can help you navigate the mental health system can be a tremendous help.
Patience is something you either have or you need to develop. There were times when I had to be patient and allow things to take their own time. This was not procrastination or apathy; it was the acceptance that rushing things was not effective. Pushing my daughter to go back to school just caused her stress that brought the symptoms back stronger. A gradual forward progress was better than a backward slide. Sometimes, the timing must be right, you cannot rush things. An example of this was when I was urging my daughter to join the psychosocial rehabilitation clubhouse for about four years with no success. Then suddenly the timing was right for her and it worked out really well. Would it have worked I she had gone when she wasn’t ready? I doubt it.
A strategy that I used to help me through the tough times was to simplify my life, I mentioned this in “Let the little things go” but I also simplified by not trying to do everything at once. I learned to think about and tackle one problem at a time and let everything else wait until I had at least made a decision how to handle the one problem. I could then take action on that one problem or move on to making a decision about the next problem. I also reduced my commitments as much as possible and got my finances in order and as automatic as I could.
Myths about mental illness are still very prevalent in modern society. Myths such as “people with schizophrenia are violent” or “mental illness is not treatable” need to be dispelled with facts. Studies have shown that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victims of violence, and people with schizophrenia are no more violent than those without schizophrenia. Mental illness is very real, can be treated, and people do recover. I learned that knowledge and understanding of mental illness were poor in the general population and I count myself in that population until I became directly involved with my daughter’s illness and educated myself. I now try to help other people understand, and is the reason I am active in helping other people.