It’s been said that there is no health without mental health.
In a country plagued by issues of drug addiction, disasters and poverty, it’s doubly unfortunate that we are only one of very few countries in the world without a mental health law.
Later this week, the Mental Health Act will be filed in the Philippine Senate. It is the hope of mental health advocates everywhere that, in a nation in dire need of the services mandated by the law, the bill will be passed soon.
Drug addiction is very closely entwined with mental health issues. Drug addiction is a disease and not a moral failing, in the same way that alcoholism has a very strong genetic component. And yet, there are hardly any mechanisms in place to help a person through rehabilitation and recovery.
October is National Mental Health Month, and it is heartening to see that, in many campuses, student organizations have created activities that aim for a deeper understanding of suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental health issues.
This is very timely. The number of college students with mental health issues is rising by the year, with one in seven university students affected, according to some.
Mental health is the responsibility of both the family and the community, but everything begins in the home. Unfortunately, for many families, acknowledging the problem is often a very difficult pill to swallow. Healing cannot take place without acknowledging, first of all, that there is a problem.
Early intervention is very important. For the more common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, treatments are out there and recovery rates are pretty good, especially when the condition is caught early on.
Seeking professional help when needed is crucial. We need to lose the stigma that seeking help or taking medication is a sign of weakness. We will save more lives when we become more pro-active about seeking help and treatment. There is no shame in that at all.
Depression in teens, young adults and in the very senior population (70 and above) is a reality that cannot be denied. The highest suicide rates occur in these demographics. In general, look out for these warning signs: if a person has been exhibiting lethargy, major changes in sleeping and eating patterns, a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy, have become very irritable or ill-tempered at the slightest provocation. And if these behaviors have been going on for more than two weeks, consider them red flags that point to the need for professional help.
Family love and support are essential in helping a person with a mental health issue recover. However, caring for someone can exact a toll on the caregiver, too. It’s very important to be compassionate to yourself, and to recognize that that you are not solely responsible for your loved one’s recovery. To be a key support person in their life entails taking good care of yourself.
Every now and then, it is important to unplug from the situation and maintain contact with other people in your life who can support you. As a carer, you will need to also enjoy life and not become overburdened. You cannot give love and support when you don’t have it, or you don’t receive some form of it, as well.
Take breaks, relax, exercise regularly, make sure you are getting enough sleep, and, most importantly, have someone you trust and can unburden yourself with.
If you are caring for someone with a mental health issue, here are a few things to consider and remember:
Study everything that you can about the specific disease and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek help from a mental health professional. Stay informed, but make sure you are accessing reputable sites or books written by professionals. It’s always best to ask your doctor.
If you are the primary caregiver, spouse, parent or partner, remember that you have the right to a full life. Maintain a balance so that you do not burn out.
Take good care of your mental, physical, social and spiritual health. Staying healthy will enable you to provide the best support you can to your loved one.
Set limits—for yourself and for your loved one with the mental health issue. You are not a superhero, so learn to respect your own limitations, those of your family members and the loved one under your care. Respect the limitations and pace of each person in the family. You can act as an advocate, but remember that you cannot control the situation or eliminate the illness.
Take breaks. Ensure that adequate care is given to your loved one while you are away. But, yes, plan on taking breaks when necessary.
Stick to routines as much as possible. The mental health issue must not take over family life completely. Be conscious that discussions about the illness do not dominate every conversation or activity. Every now and then, take a step back to assess things and ensure that the illness has not taken over everybody’s life.
Getting a diagnosis of a mental health issue can be devastating in the beginning, followed by a roller coaster of emotions. The key is to accept it, mourn it, come to terms with it, and then create a wellness circle that everyone in the family can take part in, to help in the loved one’s recovery and day-to-day living.
Whatever the illness, proper treatment—which includes a wellness and recovery plan and the family’s unconditional love, support and communication—can make anything surmountable.
Next: Depression in teens and seniors
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