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The Connection the Loved Ones of People With Mental Illness Share

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I recently attended a support group for families with loved ones who have a mental illness. One gentleman described how his loved one was “betterish.” He went on to explain that things were better than they had been, but they still were not the same as before the illness. We discussed how if you say things are better, you can somehow jinx yourself, and it could all fall apart in a blink of an eye.

How many of us are knocking on wood, as if this ritual will give us an illusion of control in a world that often feels out of control, when watching our loved one deal with mental illnesses? All of us at the support group decided we liked that word as we could all relate to, “betterish.”

Collectively the group has loved ones between the age range of 10 to adulthood, with diagnoses including anxiety and depression, schizophrenia and bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) to oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and schizoaffective disorder. We have seen how debilitating these illness can be and shared the heartbreak of hearing suicide threats or attempts. We have come to the realization that mental illness has changed the people they once were.

None of us ever imagined when our child was born or when we married our spouse that one day they would have a mental illness and we would be hoping for “betterish.” So here we all are, gathered on this cold December night, sitting on folding chairs in a church classroom and looking for support and mental health resources. We are mostly, however, here to not feel alone.

We shared stories of trips to the ER, the times Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS) were called, inpatient hospitalizations, countless meetings and phone calls with schools, therapists and psychiatrists and the never ending changing of medications and dosages.

Many of us felt exhausted and drained, all the while hoping the other shoe doesn’t drop. As we shared our stories, there was a common theme. We all have at some point struggled with the mental health system and its lack of available care, long ER waits, lack of hospital beds and the not knowing what services are out there.

We talked about the ever-changing diagnosis and the stigma attached to each of these mental illnesses. We all had experienced the frustration with insurance providers and the denial of services, the start of the new year and meeting deductibles all over again. We are constantly educating ourselves about a system that is filled with acronyms, which we must learn in order to speak the language. It is like a secret club, and if you don’t know the password, then you will never be able to attain the services you need.

With a new year upon us, we should hope for a better mental health system. We should join together to fight the stigma attached to a diagnosis. We should talk openly and honestly about mental illness. We should not feel alone. We can offer a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold or just a sympathetic ear to hear the frustration, the heartbreak, the sadness and the hope. For we must never give up hope.

As I enter 2017, I do so cautiously optimistic that my loved ones will continue to be “betterish.” I hope all families find their own “betterish” even if it only lasts a day, a week or a year.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 4, 2017
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