This Fallback Friday was originally posted on August 1, 2014
When a Loved One Doesn’t Understand Mental Illness
The other day I posted an article suggesting ways you can tell your family and friends that you have a mental illness. What do you do, however, if they don’t understand? I’ve been in enough support groups to learn that many people, unfortunately, have loved ones who don’t get it. Some may refuse to accept that you have a mental illness, while others refuse to believe that mental illness even exists. If this has happened in your case you may be feeling hurt, misunderstood and alone. Here are some ideas which you may use and hopefully make them understand what you are going through.
Tell Them in a Way That They May Understand
I have a friend who was there for me as my life spiraled out of control. He was loving and supportive, but admitted he didn’t understand. He said he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just shake it off. I tried various ways to help him grasp it, but nothing worked until I put it in a way that he could relate. I asked my friend if he’s ever been to a party and felt like he didn’t belong. Did he feel isolated like he was in a bubble watching the party go on around him? His response was “Of course. I think everyone feels that from time to time.” My response back to him was short and simple. I said, “I live in that bubble.” He cocked his head, grimaced, then grinned and said, “That makes sense.” He still didn’t completely grasp the idea, but I finally planted a seed. A big seed as a matter of fact.
I’m sure, based on your diagnosis, you can come up with similar analogies to help explain to those in your life. They may not get it right away, but it’s a good place to start.
Have a Group Therapy Session
Ask your therapist if you can bring your family with you on your next visit. If she says no, you may want to consider getting a new therapist. Your therapist has spent a lot of time explaining your disorder to many people. Maybe she can get through to them in a way you weren’t able.
Suggest a Book
Go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and search for a book about your diagnosis for your loved one to read. When I search for “bipolar” on Amazon, the search returned with 28,464 results. Many of them are highly rated.
Suggest Some Blogs
If you can’t get your friends or family to sit down with a book, maybe they’ll spend a little time reading the web. There’s a certain little blog that I know of which would be a good start. Seriously, though, nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than an email from a family member of a person with mental illness who thanks me for helping them understand. I’ve received many. I’m sure many other blogs could say the same.
You can find an extensive list of blogs about bipolar disorder at The Bipolar Blogger Network.
Other Websites That May be Helpful
Actress, Glenn Close, has a sister with bipolar and a nephew with schizophrenia. Having such close associations with mental illness led her to co-found Bring Change 2 Mind. This website offers a simple page of factual information, videos, individual stories and even a store.
Check out “You’ve Got This” at Healthline.com. “You’ve Got This” is a large selection of reader submitted videos about living with bipolar disorder. My only concern with this site is that some of the videos over-promise. Some say that you can have the same life as anyone else. Some say that you’ll be able to go back to work. Those are just two examples and neither of which are true for everyone, The videos are links from YouTube, so I would suggest finding videos you like in advance and show them to your loved ones directly on YouTube.
There is another blog that I highly recommend named Stigma Fighters. I have listed it under websites because it is so extensive. Featured on Good Day New York and Psychology Today, Stigma Fighters has dozens of testimonials from individuals with various forms of mental illness. You can find mine listed under Bradley S. This is a site I highly recommend because of the frank and honest postings.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Since 1979, NAMI has provided support for those with mental disorders and their friends and families. In addition to offering discussion groups, they offer 12 Session courses for family members, partners and friends of someone living with a mental illness. NAMI has helped thousands over the years. The NAMI website has a search feature to find a chapter in your area.
Some May Never Get It
I hope these ideas help. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you won’t get through to them. They will either not understand or will refuse to understand. Try to be patient and allow them to process any information you provide them. You owe it to yourself to be quietly optimistic. On the other hand, should the relationship become abusive, then the only thing you may want to be quiet about is getting the hell out of there. I am not a doctor or therapist so I can’t suggest the best way to do this, but talk with your therapist. He should be able to make recommendations on how you should proceed.