It might have started with a panic attack during your algebra exam in high school. It then might have progressed into depression in college, and post-partum depression after the birth of your first child. At times, you might have even felt so desperate that you wanted to commit suicide.
Or perhaps you have a brother who seems in the grips of full-blown paranoia. No matter how much you try, you just cannot reach him. He's convinced that the FBI is watching his every move, and no one can convince him otherwise. You want him to seek professional help, but he is reluctant to do so.
Mental illness can create tremendous stress for a family. Because the illness is so misunderstood, there is the problem of the stigma attached to it. You might be ashamed or embarrassed, either by your own mental illness or that of a close family member or friend. You may feel as if you are all alone, that no one else could possibly understand what you are going through.
Mental illness routinely creates financial stress for families. Sometimes, overspending is a sign of manic-depressive disorder. A depressed person might invest too much of the family income on a collection of guns or hunting knives. Disputes over finances can create great tensions for families, making it difficult for them to cope.
In addition, mental illness creates tensions within interpersonal relationships. You might be angry with a partner's mood swings—not understanding that it is a situation beyond his or her control. You may be frustrated with a brother who doesn't seem able to hold down a job. You may simply not understand a sister whose promiscuous lifestyle you consider to be dangerous.
The important thing to realize is that, while the stress of mental illness can seem unbearable at times, it is entirely manageable. If you are the individual suffering from mental illness, make an appointment to see a reputable therapist. He or she can help you sort out your problems and can recommend a psychiatrist who can find the medication that is right for you.
Part of the stress of mental illness can be the difficulty involved in finding a medication that works. You may find the side-effects of a particular drug difficult to deal with at first. Psychiatrists say it is best if you follow the doctor's recommendation and try to manage the side-effects as best you can. Going off your medication can have disastrous consequences—and can lead to a great deal more stress.
At times, you might find that your mental illness requires you to go into the hospital for a time. Such hospitalizations can increase your stress level. However, if you think of the hospital stays as just steps on the road to recovery, you will be able to handle the stress much more effectively.
Coping with another's mental illness can be even more stressful. Mental illness can be quite unpredictable, so it can drain your emotional reserves. It can be highly difficult dealing with a situation that changes so abruptly from one minute to the next. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to join a support group for family members of the mentally ill. This can be tremendously cathartic. You will be able to talk to other people who are going through the same things that you are going through. You can draw comfort and strength from this network of individuals. Some members of your support group may even allow you to call them at home to discuss your problems further. There is no substitute for a listening ear, especially in the rough times.
You may also want to consider family counseling. In this way, the entire family can be involved in a loved one's recovery from mental illness. You'll be able to learn healthy coping strategies for dealing with another's illness, and you will be able to communicate in an open, supportive atmosphere.
There is little doubt that mental illness can lead to life-long stress. However, with a little bit of effort, you can learn to manage this stress effectively. And you will find that you and your family are better off as a result
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