Mental Health Disorders: A Guide for Allies and Caregivers
WHO states, ‘Mental health disorders are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour, and dysfunctional relationships with others.’ Although all of us may go through periods of anxiety or erratic behaviour in our life, it is not a sign of a chronic condition. It is only when this behaviour becomes recurrent over time and starts affecting our ability to function in our daily lives that it is considered a mental health disorder. If you’re a caregiver or a loved one to someone suffering from a mental health disorder it can be tempting to look at it through your lens. In this article, we help you understand how to appropriately care for someone suffering from a mental health disorder without aggravating it.
Getting over Stigma is Key
Stigma is the rejection, avoidance or fear, people direct toward those they perceive as being ‘different’. Mental illness is quite common and many of us struggle with it without seeking help due to the fear of being labelled.
Have you ever engaged with somebody expressing mental issues at any time? Or have you ever experienced it and wondered, “Am I mentally ill?”. If yes, you have an opportunity to help them recover for a healthy life. So, when you happen to meet anybody suffering from mental disorders, the way you treat and react to them should come from a place of empathy and not judgement.
One out of four persons suffers from psychiatric illness at any given point of life. People suffering from mental illness may be around you and yet be struggling invisibly. The challenge is in making people comfortable thereby enabling them to share. Sometimes, it is important to have conversations at length with friends and loved ones to help them share their true emotions. As a loved one, it is your responsibility to be available to your near and dear ones to have conversations about their mental health.
Stigma can cause a range of problems that can aggravate mental health issues such as:
- You tell yourself “I don’t need a psychologist! I’m smart enough to solve my own issues.
- As soon as you hear the word psychologist…what comes to mind is instability and extremely aggressive behaviour.
- You are afraid of society branding you as ‘crazy’.
- Stigma leads to lesser opportunities for education, employment, and housing.
- Cost of mental health treatment is high and not covered by insurance.
- It can cause you to resign yourself to a life of living with mental illness.
How does Stigma Cause Harm?
Stigma creates fear, mistrust, and anger in the minds of the public towards people living with/ recovered from mental illness and their families. This leads to social exclusion and rejection. As a result the patient often lives in shame, suffers from low self-esteem, loneliness, and lack of opportunity.
Social isolation is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes and early mortality – “the lethality of loneliness.” Social isolation predicts disability among individuals with mental illness. The stigma affects the treatment outcomes and hinders effective and efficient recovery of mental health issues.
How to Cope With the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues?
- Seek treatment – You might be hesitating to admit that you need treatment. You shouldn’t prevent yourself because of the fear of getting labelled with a mental illness. Treatment can help in finding out what is wrong and help in reducing the symptoms and help in how to deal with it mentally and physically.
- Don’t let stigma develop self-doubt and shame – You might believe that if you’re labelled with a mental illness, it is a sign of personal weakness or that you must be able to control it without help. Even if you can control it, do seek psychiatric help. Reading up about your condition, talking to people who have similar types of conditions or visiting a psychiatrist for mental issues is for the better. However, it does not replace the need for treatment from a certified psychiatrist or counsellor.
- Don’t isolate yourself – You might be hesitating to admit that you have a mental illness to others. Your friends, family, near and dears ones can offer support if they know about your mental illness. You must reach out to people who you trust and respect for the compassion, support, and understanding you need.
- Don’t equate yourself with your illness – You might have an illness but you are not the illness. You can say “I have bipolar disorder” instead of saying “I’m Bipolar”. Instead of calling yourself “a schizophrenic,” say “I have schizophrenia.”
- Join support groups – Support groups, a group consisting of people with similar types of mental illness be it depression, substance abuse etc. that help reduce stigma by educating people who have a mental illness, their families, and the general public.
- Speak out against stigma – Try to express your experiences, your opinions via social media, post pictures… write open letters, talk at events. Set up a meetup. It can help instill courage in those facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.
How to Be a Mental Health Ally?
- Start with empathy
Well, to begin with, treat people with mental health disorders with empathy and understanding. First, we need to educate ourselves about mental health issues to eliminate our own biases. The social stigma attached to mental illness is one of the most difficult hurdles on the path to dealing with the problem.
- Treat sufferers with dignity
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) observes the World Mental Health Day on October 10, it clearly seeks to underline the word ‘dignity’. Quite appropriately, thus, this year’s theme of the World Mental Health Day is: ‘Dignity in Mental Health’. It implies that like all other illnesses, people suffering from mental illness need to be treated well and with dignity and his or her human rights are protected.
- Fight misconception
Mental illness as portrayed in film and popular culture have also bred numerous misconceptions about the disease and its treatment. This has lent the issue of mental illness a social stigma. Result: today a large number of cases of mental illnesses go unreported as people with the illness are reluctant to come out in the open and acknowledge that they are mentally ill.
- Stay vigilant about mental health abuse
There have been umpteen reports of mentally ill persons being maltreated, discriminated against, stigmatised and marginalised. Such patients also often have to face physical and mental abuse at health facilities and at the hands of the community, they live with. In the absence of qualified mental health experts and doctors, their suffering increases manifold. We need to work together to raise awareness and act against perpetrators of mental health abuse.
- Drive awareness
This year, WHO launched an awareness campaign to ensure that people with mental health conditions can continue to live with dignity, through human rights-oriented policy and law, training of health professionals, respect for informed consent to treatment, inclusion in decision-making processes, and public information campaigns. It is essential for us as allies to amplify these campaigns to make the world a better place for those struggling with their mental health.
How to Help Those Suffering from Mental Health Issues?
As a caregiver or loved one to someone suffering from mental health issues, here are a few healthy habits you can help them develop.
- Ensure they stick to a healthy and regular sleep schedule
- Ensure they have a diet of fresh food packed with nutrients
- Keep them away from a social situation involving alcohol, smoking and drugs
- Ensure they get plenty of sunlight
- Ensure they pay attention to their personal hygiene
- Help them manage stress by doing yoga, workout or meditation together
- Help them find activities that they love and give them joy like dancing, swimming, cycling
- Get a pet for them to help comfort them in periods of distress
- Be present for them and stop judgement from clouding your behaviour towards them
- Ensure that they get help and stick to their treatment plan
- Set realistic goals. Accept the way they are and understand that it’s okay not to be perfect.
- Ensure that they ask for help when they need it
Signs of Mental Illness to Watch Out for
Our brain has a built-in warning system which alerts us through different physical and behavioural changes that something is wrong. Mental illnesses do not become severe in a day or two. Just like any physical illness, it shows early signs and symptoms. But we are too busy to notice these signs.
Here are five warning signs you should look out for-
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability – Intense feeling of sadness, worthlessness, lack of hope, and helplessness for prolonged periods of time. Mental health disorders are not just about ‘feeling blue’ or ‘just having a bad day’.
- Extremely high and low moods leading to a bad lifestyle – poor grooming, social withdrawal, slow motor behaviour and speech, weight loss or gain, excessive sleep, low self-esteem, agitation, blunted emotions and slowed thought processes.
- Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety – Everyone gets anxious sometimes, but if your worries and fears are so constant that they interfere with your ability to function and relax, it is definitely a warning sign.
- Social withdrawal – Choosing to minimize contact with others is a common symptom for people who have mental health-related issues.
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits – Excessive or less eating, insomnia, or oversleeping are some of the first signs that you need help.
If you or someone you love is suffering from a mental health disorder, call us @+91 96111 94949.