Living With Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Mental Illness and the Family: Recognizing Warning Signs and How to Cope

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. It is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, dementia and addictive behaviors.

Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else.” In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.

Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying, and can make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.
If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help.


If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately.

Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.

Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological.

Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.

In Adults, Young Adults and Adolscents:
> Confused thinking
> Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
> Feelings of extreme highs and lows
> Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
> Social withdrawal
> Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
> Strong feelings of anger
> Strange thoughts (delusions)
> Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
> Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
> Suicidal thoughts
> Numerous unexplained physical ailments
> Substance use

In Older Children and Pre-Adolescents:
> Substance use
> Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
> Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
> Excessive complaints of physical ailments
> Changes in ability to manage responsibilities – at home and/or at school
> Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism, Intense fear
> Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
> Frequent outbursts of anger

In Younger Children:
> Changes in school performance
> Poor grades despite strong efforts
> Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
> Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
> Hyperactivity
> Persistent nightmares
> Persistent disobedience or aggression
> Frequent temper tantrums


Is mental illness treatable?

Yes, mental illness can be treated. This means that many people who have a mental illness, and are treated, recover well or even completely. However,because there are many different factors contributing to the development of each illness, it can sometimes be difficult to predict how, when, or to what degree someone is going to get better.

Treatment means all the different ways in which someone with a mental illness can get help to minimise the effects of the illness and promote recovery.It can involve psychological therapy, medication, and various supports in the community, as well as people with the mental illness helping themselves.

A doctor, psychologist or other health professional talks with the person about their symptoms and concerns, and discusses new ways of thinking about and managing them

Support programs are especially important for people with recurrent symptoms or who have a psychiatric disability. This support may include information, accommodation, help with finding suitable work, training and education, psychosocial rehabilitation and mutual support groups. Understanding and acceptance by the community is also very important.

It is common for the person with the mental illness to become the focus of family life. When this happens, other members of the family may feel ignored or resentful. Some may find it difficult to pursue their own interests.

Many families who have a loved one with mental illness share similar experiences”
It is important to remember that there is hope for recovery and that with treatment many people with mental illness return to a productive and fulfilling life.

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