From: Jean Hayes
I want to share a couple important facts that I have learned about mental illness. First, living with a family member who has a mental illness can be less difficult if you think about it like you do a chronic physical illness. Second, neither the victim nor his/her family caused the behaviors associated with mental illness.
First, mental illness is like physical illness. Mental illness is a brain disorder with symptoms that include unwanted behaviors. A physical illness is a physical disorder like a heart condition is a heart disorder with symptoms that include unwanted shortness of breath and pain. In both cases the symptoms overtake the victim. The person is overwhelmed by the symptoms and his/her normal ability to cope and inner strengths are drained.
Second, the victim of mental illness did not cause and cannot control the unwanted behaviors. Unwanted behaviors are symptoms of the brain disorder. This is a huge problem for victims and families, because the behavior symptoms of mental illness look like they are under the person’s control when they are not. Often, people with mental illness are expected to control their unwanted behaviors. Heart patients are not expected to manage shortness of breath or pain without a lot of medical intervention and family accommodations. Without understanding that the victim of mental illness needs help to manage his/her behavior symptoms, the suffering can be unbearable.
Symptoms are not caused by poor family relationships or bad parenting. Blaming family members is the single, most devastating event in the lives of families of loved ones with mental illness. Blaming comes from many places including extended family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers, media portrayals, and even healthcare providers and administrators of health and human services. It is both spoken and unspoken. It is often unintentional but still damaging.
It is important for all of us try to become more aware of our own beliefs about the symptoms of mental illness and try to ‘fix’ our misconceptions and prejudices. For information and/or local support groups call Helen Newell at (507) 494-0905.