Mental Health 101

I thought it might be helpful, with everyone talking about “Mental Health,” if I broke it down into bite size pieces so that we could digest it more easily.

I look at the recent shooting and I can’t help but see it as the consequence of a mental illness left to fester, ignored by a mother who loved her son, but for some reason, was unable to address his illness in an effective way.  It happens. We think things will change, we think we’ve got it handled, we think with more love it will right itself. In cases of pervasive, organic pathology, it does not get better. It gets worse.

I would add into the mix, the possibility that this mother was ashamed of her son’s challenges on some deeper level that she might not have recognized within herself. I know from news reports and hearing from people who knew her, that she isolated her son and was very private and protective of him. RED FLAGS SHOULD GO UP. Like all mothers, we feel a sense of failure when our children are not, “normal” and we know when they’re not. Taking incredible steps to accommodate and tip toe around our children is a sign that something is wrong. It’s always easier to see in others. When it’s in our own family, we sometimes miss it.

Some of our present day coping comes from earlier generations who experienced a tremendous shame when anything within their family seemed out-of-place or different. Those things might include, addictions, physical illness, mental illness, birth defects, financial difficulties, unwanted pregnancies, etc. (I could go on and on.) In the past it was common for people to pretend everything was fine, to deny problems, to blame others, to cover up and hide, all coping which, by the way, actually exacerbates these very normal issues. (When you believe that these difficulties point to the fact that you’re somehow intrinsically bad or without value, the shame becomes unbearable and you hide.) Unfortunately, the residual of this unhealthy, multi-generational coping, the shameful attitudes of the past, are still with us today. It’s part of the reason why we can’t seem to get a handle on mental illness and lift the stigma.

Changing an entrenched, unhealthy family pattern can be one of the most difficult tasks we face. This is where we run into major resistance, and so we just continue the patterns because it’s all we know and it’s easier. I say it’s time to shine a light on these issues and accept that they are completely normal and fall under the umbrella of what it is to be a human being.

Psychotic Disorders usually appear between late teen years and early twenties. The word “psychotic” indicates a break with reality. Sometimes the break manifests itself with audio or visual hallucinations. There are many different categories of mental illness where psychosis could also be experienced, including Mood Disorders and Personality disorders (Paranoid, Schizoid, and Schizotypal.) These are organic, pervasive illnesses, meaning, they’re not something that will change with a few sessions of therapy.  They need to be treated with medication. Therapy is helpful for both the patient and family members – those who will need to accept and learn how to manage these illnesses over a lifetime. (It’s not easy.)

SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD NEEDS THERAPEUTIC INTERVENTION – Any one of these things should raise some concern.

They isolate, they have no friends, they have awkward social exchanges, they seem disconnected from their feelings, they’re verbally and behaviorally anti-social, they’re unable to empathize with others, they’re angry, full of rage and violent, they’re verbally inappropriate, they have a vacant or flat affect, they lack a filter for their thoughts, they lack social/cultural awareness, they are depressed and uninterested in life, they have active thoughts of self-harm or inflicting harm to others, they show no self-care, etc.