By Jennifer Seigworth
One of the hardest things a person might have to do is accept that they have an illness. This includes diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer. Surprisingly, one of the hardest diagnoses to accept is that of mental illness. Accepting it is often hardest for the afflicted, but it can be equally difficult for family to accept their loved one’s mental illness. This can be due to lack of knowledge about one’s illness or simply not understanding how debilitating the illness can be for some. I have overheard some very hurtful comments from otherwise compassionate people when faced with a loved one’s mental illness. Anger and resistance to the reality of it is quite common.
Last week, I talked about living with the mental illness of a loved one. Today’s article is focused on those relationships where a mental health diagnosis is denied and said to be “all in your head.” The most important thing is to accept it yourself, but it is highly beneficial to have the support of loved ones. When a loved one insinuates that you are just using your mental illness as an excuse to behave a certain way or that you just need to “suck it up” and “get over it” these can be hard words to swallow. This can also deter those who are ill from seeking the help they need and making the changes they need to make.
As I mentioned, those who suffer from mental illness have a constant battle going on inside of them already. They battle between logical thinking and emotional thinking with a bundle of thinking errors buzzing around in there as well. They may tell themselves they are just lazy and shouldn’t have a problem getting out of bed on a bad day. They tell themselves that that panic attack in the middle of a crowded store is a sign of weakness and they are flawed because they could not control the crushing feeling and inability to breathe, or stop crying. Some people even feel overwhelming anger during a panic attack. Let me ask you, who would want to fake something like that and for what reason?
Of course there are attention seekers in the world who may exploit an illness, but that in itself says something about their mental and emotional health, doesn’t it? Those who truly suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, and many other types of mental health issues need to have those closest to them to rely on for grounding. They are not faking it. It truly does feel like they are out of control at times. They suffer in silence often as they overthink tiny details and conversations that others allow to go in one ear and out the other. This can be exhausting and lead to isolation as a way to avoid that cycle.
When those with mental illness feel comfortable enough with their diagnosis to share it with their loved ones, they need to know they are believed. Admitting one’s own weakness to someone that is important to them is extremely difficult. It is like a punch in the stomach to have that person show disbelief in the illness or minimize its severity. It reinforces all of the negative thoughts that have been racing around the battlefield of one’s own mind. This can lead to serious consequences, depending on the situation.
If you or a loved one has a mental illness, take the time to research the disease. In today’s world, there are more and more who are finding it hard to cope with what we have to face each day. Having faith is very important in finding the hope to cope. Along with that there are also medical, chemical aspects to mental health that must be treated by a physician. Please remember, you would never expect a person with a broken leg to “suck it up and walk it off,” so when someone has a mental illness, be compassionate and listen to what they have to say. Nobody enjoys the limitations that illness can put on one’s life. Listening and supporting your loved one could truly save a life.