Quick: what do you think of when you think of mental illness? Chances are, you think of the homeless man on the light rail, rocking and muttering to himself. Or perhaps the psychopath serial killer in the latest horror movie. Or maybe the son or daughter of a friend who has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and who has been in and and of the hospital since they were in college.
Guess what? Not even the tip of the iceberg. One out of four American adults suffers from a mental disorder in any given year. That includes depression (mild depression or major depressive disorder), generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorders, autism, personality disorders, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and of course, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Chances are, someone you know and love has a mental disorder. Maybe it’s you. And if it’s you, there is no reason to be ashamed, because you are not alone. Far from it. In part three of this four part series, we’ll talk about what to do if you are the one suffering from mental illness. If you missed them, you can catch up by clicking directly on parts one and two. (for information about the difference between mental disorder and mental illness, click here).
Most importantly, you must first get a diagnosis. While it’s tempting to Google and self-diagnose according to information you find online, don’t. Moodiness alone does not mean you have bipolar disorder, nor does occasional sadness mean you have clinical depression. Because many physical illnesses cause psychological symptoms, it is important that you discuss your symptoms openly and honestly with your doctor, without preconceived ideas of what you think you have, thanks to internet searches. One important caveat: if you have a family history of a particular disorder, make your doctor aware of that. Many illnesses have a genetic or biological link.
Secondly, manage your mental health just as you manage your physical health. If you had diabetes, you would check your blood sugar several times a day and take your insulin religiously, wouldn’t you? Do the same with your mental illness (in fact, if it helps, simply consider it an illness without the “mental” in front of it). Take your medications as directed, monitor your symptoms, and see your doctor, psychiatrist, and therapist (if advised) regularly. If your family is supportive and sees symptoms that you do not, take them seriously and talk to your doctor or give them clearance to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
Thirdly, seek outside support. Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri has a large list of agencies and resources that can link you to various support groups. Or you can get references from your doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. While it’s tempting to keep your diagnosis within your family or a small circle of trusted friends, it can help you to find others who really understand what you are going through. Even though you may feel alone, you are absolutely not alone.
Finally, because statistically people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be abused than people who are mentally healthy, it is important to know that you are as worthy of being respected and loved as anyone else. If someone is hurting you, seek help immediately. Contact one of the St. Louis domestic violence shelters or call 911 if you are in immediate danger of being hurt (if you are on Firefox, go to history, show all history, right click on the Alive site, then click on Forget about this site).
Sources: NIMH: The numbers count: Mental Disorders in America; Familydoctor.org Keeping your Emotional Health.