Mental illness is trendy, or so it seems to anyone watching television lately. There are two shows about Hoarders. “The United States of Tara” is about a woman with dissociative disorder. “Law and Order” regularly features people suffering from various mental illnesses. “Monk’s” main character suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the new show “Obsessed” focuses on the same. “Drop Dead Diva” made bipolar disorder seem funny, but those who have loved someone with bipolar know it’s anything but funny.
Television shows focus on painful situations for entertainment purposes, but anyone who has ever watched someone they love suffer from mental illness knows it’s not very entertaining. If you are in a relationship with someone suffering from mental illness, here’s what you need to know.
1. Mental illness can strike at any age. We often think of mental illness as striking those in adolescence and young adulthood, but symptoms can crop up at any point throughout a person’s life.
2. Mental illness does not care who you are. Male or female, old or young, high or low socioeconomic status. Educated or not. Wealthy or poor. It does not matter what your ethnic or cultural background is, what religion you are, or how you were raised. Mental illness can and does affect all groups of people.
3. Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. It can be caused by biology, heredity, and occasionally stress or trauma. There is a stigma attached to mental illness making it difficult for the sufferer to reach out for help and for the family to get support, but know that you are not alone. There are many others like you. As many as 1 out of 4 American adults suffer from a mental health issue every year.
Sources: NAMI: What is Mental Illness: Mental Illness Facts; WEBMD, Mental Illness Basics.
Being in a relationship of any kind with someone suffering from mental illness can be a painful, life-altering experience. There may be abuse involved or there may not be. There can be the constant fear that they will be hurt or incarcerated. There may addiction issues that often come from self-medication. And there can be other worries. Know that you are not alone, not by a long shot. And there is help.
If you are in the St. Louis area, NAMI has a St. Louis support group for families. If you are in an emergency situation, they also offer crisis lines. Please go to the main NAMI site if you need support and live outside the St. Louis regional area.
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Have you loved someone with a mental illness? I have. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder, depersonalization disorder, and was a hoarder. Feel free to comment below with your own experiences or email me at [email protected]