Part Three – Diagnosed With Mental Illness Now What?

If you have been following this series of blogs ‘Diagnosed With Mental Illness Now What’, you are aware how difficult this diagnosis can be to a person. You can find parts one and two of this series at these links: http://searchingforgrey.com/diagnosed-with-mental-illness-now-what/ and http://searchingforgrey.com/part-two-diagnosed-with-mental-illness-now-what/.

Each and every year, millions of Americans find themselves affected by mental health conditions so much so that many are unaware of just how prevalent a new mental health diagnosis can be. Therefore, let me give you some numbers to ponder.

The numbers I am giving you pertain strictly to those diagnosed in U.S. alone. These are numbers I have gathered to try to put this dilemma in reference for you as these numbers are staggering. Approximately 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in any given year, this means that one person in an average size family (parents and three kids) will acquire mental illness. It is sobering to learn that 1 in 25 adults experiences a serious mental illness. In youth aged 13-18, 1 in 5 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life and for children (aged 8-12), the estimate is 13%. When we look further at the percentages, the numbers show that 1.1% of adults live with Schizophrenia, while 2.6% of adults live with Bipolar Disorder. These mental disorders fall under the classification of psychosis and have the potential to severally disable and inhibit the life of the person diagnosed. In the category of Depression, 6.9% of adults had at least one Major Depressive Episode in the past year. Indications in the realm of Anxiety Disorders, such as Major Anxiety Disorder (MAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and phobia disorders, 18.1% of adults experienced ramifications. It compounds the problem even more to add that out of those experiencing the above disorders, 10.2 million adults live with the diagnosis of a co-occurring Mental Disorder, some with multiple co-occurring disorders. It is no surprise to learn after reading these statistics, that a staggering 20.2 million adults experienced a Substance Abuse Disorder, and that number is on the rise as the persons diagnosed attempt to self-medicate their pain with illicit drug use.

When we read numbers like this, what comes to your mind about statistics that are this high? I am not a numbers person, so to me, these numbers represent human lives.  It is an accounting of the human beings living on this planet, like myself, who battle the symptoms of mental illness. These people are not weak or lazy. They are #WARRIORS fighting their own brain Every Day. The factors that led to their fight include Biological influences such as genetics (mental illness is more prevalent in people whose blood relatives suffer from it), physical illness, brain chemistry, and life events (specifically in the formative years) such as trauma or abuse. Even on going, continual stressors in life can over time, contribute to mental disorders like Depression or Anxiety. Having a mental disorder increases the risk of getting ill from other diseases such as HIV, Cardiovascular Disease, and Diabetes as well.

Mental illness can be categorized into seven types of disorders such as Mood Disorders (Depression or Bipolar Disorder), Anxiety Disorders, Personality Disorders (such as Borderline Personality Disorder), Psychotic Disorders (such as Schizophrenia), Eating Disorders, Trauma-related Disorders (such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Substance Abuse Disorders.

In doing the research, I also found that the top five most common mental illnesses were Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Affective Disorder, Schizophrenia and other Psychoses, and Dementia. Depression alone impacts an estimated 300 million people and is the most-common mental disorder that generally affects women more often than men.

 What happens to many of these individuals suffering from these categories of Mental Disorders? Unfortunately, for many, the burden becomes too much to bear. The burden falls not only on those afflicted, but it spills over onto their spouses, children, extended family and friends, co-workers, the health system that exists currently, and society in general. Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds. There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10–34. More than 90% of people who die by suicide showed symptoms of a mental health condition. Also, the numbers show that each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

What is the cost to our Society in bearing the burden of Mental Illness? Problems with mental health are very common in the United States where an estimated 50% are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. The consequences of lack of treatment are beyond comprehension. Serious mental illness costs Americans $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Mood disorders, including Major Depression, Dysthymic Disorder (a mood disorder characterized by chronic mildly depressed or irritable mood often accompanied by other symptoms)  and Bipolar Disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization for both youth and adults aged 18–44. Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions while adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions that were never addressed.

In addition to the disturbing statistics listed above, there exists a major imbalance in the distribution of skilled human resources for mental health. Not only in the United States, but globally there is a shortage of Psychiatrists, Psychiatric Nurses, Psychologists, and Social Workers. The numbers are higher as we move into areas of low and middle income communities. When I moved from Florida to Southern Indiana, I suffered greatly from this shortage. It took 8 months before I could get an appointment with a Licensed Psychiatrist and about the same to establish myself with a Certified Therapist. In the meantime, I experienced a major decline in my mental and physical health as a result.

Human rights violations of people with mental and psycho-social disability are routinely reported and include physical restraint, seclusion, and denial of basic needs and privacy. A legal framework that protects the rights of people with mental disorders is severely lacking.

NOTE: I would like to give credit to NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) whose website I used to derive my research and statistics for this Blog.

The stigma is everywhere you look.  Even in the very families of those suffering with mental disabilities. Stigma can invade and destroy the lives of people with mental health problems and serves to diminish the self-esteem of a mentally ill person.  Stigma can rob those living with mental illness of social opportunities and deny them employment because of their illness. I am sad to admit that most of the stigma I have encountered throughout my lifetime has come from my immediate biological family, my spouse, my spouse's family,  close friends and extended relatives. I believe the reason being is that these are the very people that have a front row seat to my symptoms. They are those who have the burden of trying to cope, care for, and deal with me. Close friends tire of having to deal with the high maintenance issues of investing in a relationship with a mentally ill person. These factors have led me personally at times, into severe depression, isolation, attempts to take my life and general feelings of hopelessness and despair.

My intention is NOT to paint a rosy picture. The truth is, none exists. I have walked this road long enough to know.  At times, I am convinced my life is a low grade production of the movie “Drag Me To Hell”.  The conundrum being that I am a ‘high functioning mentally ill person’.  I find this being akin to saying I am a ‘Christian Prostitute’.  What does this mean? I have been told many times by clinicians, that I have an above normal intellect.  Many with mental illness do. I have been called charismatic, displaying leadership qualities, intuitive, having a high empathy toward people, and capable of being a change agent.  I made straight A's and maintained a high GPA throughout my schooling.  I am a gifted teacher and had a 20 year career mentoring a sales force under me in Mary Kay Cosmetics. I drove the pink Cadillac for 10 years and achieved high levels of success, ranking in the top 10% of the company. I was President of our local Business and Professional Women's Association (BPW) for 3 consecutive years.  In that association, I was honored with the Woman of Achievement Award.  I put myself through night school, and achieved a college degree in paralegal studies. I worked in very well-known law firms in New York and Florida as an exemplary legal assistant. I wrote law briefs and did research for the attorneys for which I worked.  My skills were in high demand and many times, I accompanied the attorneys I worked for to court on trial cases.  I would continue, yet I think I have painted the picture intended.

All throughout this entire period of time, in essence my entire life, I have suffered from 5 mental illnesses. Debilitating mental illnesses.  Please visit my website at www.searchingforgrey.com  for more of my story if you are interested.

I recently made a decision 2 years ago to lay everything aside and become a full time advocate for those like me. Those who suffer from mental illness. The knowledge I have gained in doing so and the experiences I have encountered have changed my life forever.  For the most part, I was not ‘out’ with my mental illnesses.  I had never dug into the real world of living with mental illness. I am being inducted next week as Vice President of our local NAMI Chapter.  I co-facilitate in biweekly meetings to work with those suffering from mental illness. I do other volunteer work and advocacy on behalf of the Mentally Ill. Suffice it to say my eyes have been opened to a whole new world.  A world I am part of, a very scary place, a much neglected group of society. Throughout this experience I have met and ingratiated myself to some of the most caring and genuine people I have ever met in my life.  These persons would be the mentally ill and those who advocate for them.

I will end this on an upbeat note, as I know full well there are those like me and family members holding out for HOPE.  Yet, before I do so, I must preface with the fact that all that I am about to share must be self-inflicted.  All of the things I list below must be initiated by family members or loved ones and participated in by those who are mentally ill. If this is not the case, you saw the statistics above. If you do not take charge of your own walk to wellness, you will be a statistic. The numbers are higher the younger you are.  The chances of you becoming a victim of a broken system are higher if you allow yourself to remain uneducated and non-participatory in your journey. So I will give you hope. I will set forth things that can be done by you and your family to enable your walk out of the darkness of mental disability. If by chance, you should find yourself walking alone, do not be surprised. The walk is lifelong. The journey is difficult. Your commitment to yourself is the journey. I am with you on that journey,  Alice

HOPE

Mental illness is TREATABLE. Most people afflicted with a mental illness can and will make inroads to recovery, with appropriate ongoing treatment and support.  For some mental illnesses, there is no cure, but with the right medications and therapy however, many will be able to live out a productive life.  NAMI believes that recovery is a process, beginning with diagnosis. A bonafide professional must provide that diagnosis, followed up with therapy as to how to manage symptoms of your particular diagnosis. Recovery and management of symptoms involves learning about your diagnosis, what the most effective treatments are, and having the support of peers and family members to achieve wellness. It is imperative that your loved ones and/or caregiver is also educated as to these things. For this reason, I have often involved my family members in therapy counseling sessions for them to gain insight as to my symptoms and struggles.

An effective treatment plan should include any or all of the following things:  Psychiatric Medication, Psychotherapy and ongoing education of your diagnosis. Group Therapy is another avenue I found very helpful. Proper health hygiene to include a balanced diet, exercise, and sleep can also play a big role in the road to recovery of your mental health. I have found that volunteering in activities within your local community that involve mental health outreach and advocacy can have a very positive effect on your recovery. Try to maintain as active a social life as possible and not fall into isolation. Develop certain hobbies that will help with distracting you from your symptoms. If you are not capable of working a full time job, try part time or volunteer work.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR ILLNESS. DON’T LABEL YOURSELF AS SUCH. Instead of saying "I'm Bipolar," say "I have Bipolar Disorder." Instead of calling yourself "a Schizophrenic," say "I have Schizophrenia."

Don't allow the fear, self-doubt or shame of being labeled with a Mental Illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life. You may feel that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. You may turn to recreational drugs, alcohol or self harm, to self medicate, which can and will lead to even bigger problems. Being able to Radically Accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and putting safe plans in place can and will make a big difference.

Family members need to educate themselves as to the warning signs of Mental Illness, especially if it runs in the family lineage. NAMI states that: Fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters begins by age 24. Major mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder rarely appear ‘out of the blue’. Most often family, friends, teachers or individuals themselves begin to recognize small changes or a feeling that ‘something is not quite right’ about their thinking, feelings or behavior before an illness appears in its full-blown form.  Please refer to the NAMI website at www.nami.org for the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

Help to reduce Stigma and Discrimination within your community. Judgments, almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Educate yourself and others about mental health problems. For those without Mental Illness, be cognizant and aware of your attitudes and behavior toward those who are Mentally Ill. Don’t ‘blanket’ the entire Mentally Ill population with catch phrases like ‘Psychos’ or ‘Skitzos’. Choose your words carefully. Speak out against bullying or harassment of the Mentally Ill if you see it occurring on line or in person.

Try to maintain a hopeful position. It is so important to maintain a positive outlook.  Getting the right help requires perseverance and self-advocacy. There will always be setbacks along your journey. Try not to lose focus of where you are headed. Getting back to your life is the goal of recovery!

 

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