Friday, December 10, 2010

Recognizing Mental Illness: Delusion or Next Great Idea?

For a very long time I thought other people were disinterested in helping those with a mental illness. In the last 6 months I have learned that there are plenty of people that are willing and interested in helping but simply aren't educated in the world of mental health. To many, mental health issues can be scary, seen as untreatable and hard to deal with.

We need to spend our energy educating those that have the opportunity to intervene with individuals at the first sign of mental illness. Intervening early gives an individual a much better chance of being provided treatment.

I recently read a book called "Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven" by Susan Gilman. (Susan Gilman is a fabulous writer and I highly recommend this book by the way, but back to the point.) Gilman writes of her travels abroad in Southeast Asia during the '80s. Her travel buddy, Claire, begins to unravel psychologically before her eyes. As many of us that have a family member affected by mental illness, Gilman attempts to provide logic and sense as she watches Claire suffer through paranoia and delusions. I won't give away the end to the book as many of you might be interested in reading Gilman's book. I will say it's a shame Gilman didn't recognize things easier. In her defense, it is certainly hard to pinpoint delusions when an incredibly intelligent and trusted person close to you asks you to believe their thinking, however out of this world it seems.

I want to share with you a few signs and symptoms as provided by Mental Health America. Of course, if you begin to recognize signs and symptoms, consult a Doctor or a professional in the mental health field. Self-diagnosing, jumping to conclusions or avoiding a diagnosis can push one further away from treatment as well.

In adults:
  • 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
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse
In older children and pre-adolescents:
  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • 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
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

I'll speak to a few of those 'adult' signs and symptoms to give you an idea of what it looked like for our family. My brother's sleeping became very sporadic. There was no pattern associated with his sleep. He may sleep for 2 days then be up for 3 nights and back to sleep for another 2. Sleep can really enhance delusions and as a result an inability to delineate reality from those delusions. Folks, this is not your typical "I pulled two all nighters studying in college." This is can't sleep, won't sleep, mind racing, body pacing patterns (or not so patterns). Substance Abuse. My brother began abusing drugs and alcohol. Albeit I can understand in hindsight because he was trying to drown out voices in his head. Albeit, excessive drinking and drugs is often a sign of self medication. Anger. My brother seemed to be consistently agitated. I would see him go from being fairly calm and collected to being so angry he would punch a hole through a wall over a sandwich. Situations can escalate quickly with individuals that are suffering from a mental illness. (In regards to crises intervention and communication during escalating situations, look to NAMI Family-to-Family courses - they had some great tips that I learned in my class.)

Again, please remember that I am NO Doctor and am speaking solely from a family member's point of view. But I'd love to hear your input. Did you recognize some of the day things? Were you scared? How did your family work together to help your loved one?

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Have a great weekend,

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading “Undress Me in The Temple of Heaven.” It is definitely a page-turner. The most powerful scene in the book is towards the very end when Susan, whose travel mate just had a psychotic break down in the People’s Republic of China, is telling a nurse that if she could have just been there and done more for her friend this would not have happened. The nurse in response says: “’If only I had been there.’ I’m sorry, but you need to get a clue, honey. Your friend is mentally ill. Nothing you did or didn’t do made her crazy. You think that if you just hadn’t kissed some guy, Claire would be perfectly fine? You think if you’d somehow been magically able to pull her off that bus, she wouldn’t be hearing voices? Please. That’s like saying. ‘If I’d been a better friend, she wouldn’t have gotten cancer.’ Jeez Louise. You really think you have that much power?”
    Many people may feel helpless against mental illness. But the truth is we are not helpless. We can advocate, educate, and support the mentally ill. Please share our blog and please share your story with us by emailing or commenting on a post. As always, thank you for your readership.