Saturday, September 28, 2013
I found myself saying something to a family member I love very much. I said "You need to take steps necessary to be better, to get well." Right after that, I saw the picture above, which is a piece by photographer John William Keedy. This started me thinking about how we perceive normal and abnormal behavior.
One of the interesting features of mental illness is the tendency of some sufferers to resist treatment. The resistance is caused by many things. One issue is the desire to avoid the stigma associated with the "mentally ill" label. The mind-altering/personality-altering effects of psychotropic drugs is another hurdle. When a mentally ill person has full-blown anosognosia, they really believe that they are fine. It is confusing and alarming to these folks when others tell them they are mentally ill.
Here is the other thing I am learning about mental illness - it is similar to physical diseases in some ways. If you have diabetes or a heart condition or any other difficult malady and you don't get the appropriate treatment, your disease will progress and you will become less healthy until you die. This rule applies to serious mental illness, too. Serious mental illnesses are progressive. Untreated sufferers get worse, and often kill themselves when their misery and confusion becomes too much to bear.
Dr. Xavier Amador wrote a book in 2002 entitled "I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help." As I struggled with my own confusion over relatives with mental illness, I ran into a wise person who recommended the book. I read it, and learned how well-meaning actions can drive a wedge between a mentally healthy person and a mentally ill person. The book is well-written and understandable with a clear blueprint - L.E.A.P., which stands for Listen, Empathize, Agree, Partner. While the blueprint is clear, executing the plan is hard. "Sane" responses to the behavior of a mentally ill person get in the way of Dr. Amador's steps. All the natural feelings that occur when dealing with mentally ill folks - frustration, anger, worry, fear - also impede progress.
After a discouraging series of events, I find myself clinging to hope. These diseases can be controlled, people do recover. Good things can happen to the people that I love who are suffering. While the events "on the ground" may be challenging, this hope remains.
This will sound trite and corny, but I will never give up that hope.