Two recent books by high profile psychiatrists provide readers with background knowledge that is essential in shaping our own responses to one of the biggest social problems of our times: severe mental illnesses. Now that psychiatrists are increasingly willing to enter into the messy public arena, it's up to the public to see what we can do with the information they are providing.
Mental illness is one of the biggest predictors of inequitable access to care in this country. We know that having a mental illness means that you are far less likely to get the healthcare you need than someone without a mental illness and that mental illness is a bigger predictor of poor access to care than low income.
To really nail the concept of what mental illness is and how it affects both those who live with it and those who live with us, here are a few tips to guide in what I hope will be an ever-growing trend to encourage communication and break down the stereotypes. So without further ado, here are things to refrain from saying to someone with mental illness.
Despite the good intentions of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 5 - 11), it's pretty hard to learn some of the most basic information we need to know about mental illnesses. Many organizations, including the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) encourage us to take this week to discuss mental illness, but there seems to be a puzzling assumption that we don't actually have to know much about mental illnesses in order to have meaningful discussions. I'm still looking at the website for links to the early signs of psychosis or any information about schizophrenia.
Psychotic disorders are frequently accompanied by significant and disabling cognitive losses. Why don't people learn about these cognitive losses? This lack of information has enormous negative consequences. For instance, families who have not been told about these cognitive losses, may have very different interpretations of a family member's difficulties in keeping a room clean or in not relaying phone messages. Parents will respond differently to these kinds of situations if they learn that this behaviour isn't willful, but is symptomatic of an ongoing brain disorder.
Since Canada, like the U.S., has almost no science based public education about psychotic disorders, people with these illnesses are especially vulnerable to messages that they don't need medications and are better off avoiding them. As well, both countries lack adequate psycho-education programs for people with these illnesses.
This might come as quite a shock to the many American families I know who can't get treatment for their very ill sons and daughters whose psychotic states aren't 'passing.' These are families whose children have joined the millions of Americans living with untreated severe mental illnesses. They are homeless, victimized, and cycling in and out of jails and prisons.
People trying to help their family members struggling with severe mental illnesses don't have access to researchers. It's no surprise, then, that researchers ignore topics that reflect their perspectives on how to improve the mental health system. I hope they will consider the five areas discussed below.
I knew that what was happening for me at home was so different from my peers that I kept it secret, wanting to be "normal" at all costs. I felt alone and scared of absolutely everything. I was scared of Phil and the condition, scared of people finding out what was happening and scared of becoming ill like he was. This is where photography saved me.
If e-cigarettes were approved, they could be allowed for use by those suffering with serious psychiatric disorders in hospital. Those devices might help alleviate some of the deficits associated with schizophrenia, reduce the health risks of cigarette smoking, and allow for patients to smoke in hospital without the need to be allowed off the ward.
Planning for the future presents serious problems for parents of people with significant disabilities; when those families are dealing with psychotic illnesses, the future is especially frightening. While it is impossible to deny that progress is being made, the simple fact is that our world, as it stands, has little desire to label people with mental illness as anything but crazy and dangerous.
With traditional first aid, those who are trained would give CPR to someone in cardiac arrest until the paramedics arrived or staunch bleeding or do mouth to mouth. The ill individual would be helped and then handed over to the professionals. Does MHFA accomplish the same? Do those they counsel end with professional help? The answer from the evaluations that have been done is no.