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5 Ways to Help Your Family Better Understand Your Mental Health Needs

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About the author: Colleen O’Day is a Digital PR Manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health and speech pathology programs. 

One way to cope with mental illness is to find enough support. While many of us may want family to be involved in our journey, it can be a challenge if your loved ones lack a general understanding of mental illness or the ways in which it impacts your life. The good news is that there are a variety of resources available to help. Here are five ways you can teach your family about your mental illness so they can better support you:

1. Ask them to be involved in your care.  

Although mental illness may be classified by specific symptoms — such as anxiety or depression, there are many factors that can make struggling with mental illness better or worse. That’s why a holistic approach to treatment might be more effective, which includes involving family members in your care. One way you can do that is by asking them to join you for a session with a social worker or mental health professional. According to Seth Kurzban, a clinical associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, social workers are uniquely suited to offer this type of well-rounded approach: “The pedagogy of social work of being a holistic, person-centered approach where we are focused not on a symptom, but rather on the person navigating their mental health and the society they live in, is a strength of our field and shows why social workers can really change and improve people’s lives.”

The National Association of Social Workers has a similar stance on this holistic approach, noting that: “Social workers see people within their environment — as part of a family, an employee in an organization, or a community member. Because of this, their mental health work is multi-faceted, combining psychological, social and practical elements.”

2. Give them the data.  

Although many individuals living with mental illness may feel isolated and alone, it’s so much more common than most people realize — even to our own family members. By taking advantage of free educational resources, such as infographics from the online msw at the University of Southern California, you can help your loved ones see the big picture of mental illness and introduce them to resources they might find helpful. Or find specific statistics through organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health).

3. Tell them what types of barriers exist.

In addition to learning the facts about mental illness, it’s important for family members to understand the types of barriers that exist for those seeking treatment. Although effective mental health treatment is available, more than 55 percent of individuals who could have benefited from it in 2015 didn’t get it.

There are a variety of reasons for this, including skepticism about its effectiveness; concerns about medications; lack of accessible services; the cost of treatment and the stigma that’s often associated with having a mental illness. Your family may not be aware of what barriers you’re facing, but if you talk about them, you’ll have a better chance of overcoming them together.

4. Address cultural differences with your family.  

In addition to the barriers previously mentioned, cultural differences can impact care, too. For example, if your parents are from a culture that doesn’t regularly address mental health, it can be more difficult for them to understand what you’re going through. Even more, if your culture doesn’t like to talk about mental illness in general, then you may be less likely to seek treatment — which can increase gender and race disparities in mental health care.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a 2001 Surgeon General’s report revealed that only 20 percent of Latinos with “symptoms of a psychological disorder” talk to a doctor about their issues, and only 10 percent contact a mental health specialist. NAMI says there are a variety of reasons for this, including lack of information and misunderstanding about mental health; privacy concerns; language barriers; lack of health insurance; misdiagnosis; and legal status.

5. Tell them how you feel.

Since everyone experiences mental illness in a different way, your family members may not know when you’re struggling. That’s why it’s important for you to speak up and let them know how you’re feeling and what types of things impact that. By doing so, you can better care for important aspects of your life — like your job, your physical health, your relationships and yourself. When you allow your family to better understand your needs, they can provide more effective support so you can work together as a team. That’s a win-win for everyone.

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Unsplash photo via Matt Heaton

Originally published: September 26, 2017
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