A Consumer With Mental Illness And His Family

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A Consumer With Mental Illness And His Family

 

Since my exposure and until today, I have appeared in the media many times. There is almost no type of media I have not appeared on at least once - television, radio, written journalism, internet and so on. My main purpose for appearing was to end the stigma on consumers and to actually tell my personal story, a human story about another man who went on the familiar and known Israeli route, the salt of the earth who served in the military as an officer, traveled to South America, studied at university, started a family, and despite all of this, his fate worsened and he had to go through an out of the ordinary experience that undermined the entire world he had built and known until that point, and to actually show that this sort of experience can happen to anybody without regard to the social-economical status, ethnicity, age, family situation or mental history of some kind.

 

To my surprise, most of the people who have approached me following this exposure were actually the family members of consumers going through similar or other cases and events. I expected to be approached by the consumers themselves, but it seems it is easier for the people close to the consumers to contact someone who may be able to help them in their time of need. Most of the people who approached me requested to learn from my experience and asked me for different advice and ideas about how to cope with the new situation they have unwillingly been thrown into, they and the rest of the house members. Therefore, I decided to write this article in order to summarize the principles of my recommendations to consumers' families, who are forced to cope with a new situation unfamiliar to them, from my own personal experience and from what I have learnt from others.

 

One of the main questions I get asked is -  what do you do with a consumer who refuses to take medication and/or alternatively takes medication but as soon as they feel well, they throw them straight into the bin, which eventually leads to a "revolving door" phenomenon - repeated hospitalization. To my joy and to the anguish of others who do not agree with me, you cannot force a person to take medication and do things against his will, excluding cases of forced hospitalization or through various treatments in the closed wards which harm basic human rights. You can, however, speak to the heart of the consumer, talk to him often, and explain to him that he has a problem which he must take care of. This may also be a problem for life. He must understand that he has no other choice and he must take care of himself. We (the family) cannot be his policemen, the new situation exhausts us and takes away all existing energy. It is possible and desirable to also seek psychological treatment which will help the consumer to understand the new situation, to speak about it and to find ways to cope with it. It is also possible to turn to people close and dear to the consumer so that they will speak to his heart and convince him to behave otherwise. The situation is that there are consumers who require hospitalization only once or do not even get hospitalized, in order to understand they have a problem and must persist with the treatment. Unfortunately, most of the consumers will not internalize this throughout their entire life and will be forced to visit the appropriate hospitals again and again as a result of what I have described. Bottom line is - you should speak to the consumers' intelligence and emotions and not put pressure or make threats of any kind on him in order to not cause the exact opposite effect. This situation leaves no choice, and imagination needs to be put to use in order to find the way to the consumer's heart in order to help him understand the new situation.

  

Just like a building, so too in a consumer's life can 4 central supporting pillars be identified. Like a building, if one of the pillars collapses or is unstable, he will have a problem to withstand an earthquake which could easily destroy him. The four supporting pillars and other pillars constructed during the consumers' life, are the proven recipe to a quick recovery. There are those who are lucky enough to understand this principle early on and construct more pillars and thus the building he builds is more stable, and there are those who are left with weak and unstable pillars. Each pillar is important and every person may decide on the order of priority of the different pillars. The four main pillars are:

 

Family - A supportive family helps greatly with daily coping with the illness, whether by contact with the consumer, or mental help, emotional support, love, compassion, understanding and financial support. All these are extremely important in coping. Unfortunately, there is a common phenomenon whereby family and friends disconnect from a consumer who has experienced a mental event. To be blunt, there are many consumers who are "thrown away to the dogs" after suffering a mental crisis. The wife abandons the struggle; family, friends, they all forget that this is a human being, sometimes their own flesh and blood, and they sentence him to live alone and deal with the illness all by himself. Precisely during this time of need, the support of the people closest to him is important and it is essential to maintain constant contact with him.

 

Intimate Relationships - a supporting, loving, understanding and positive relationship is effective and very helpful in coping. The partner who gives everything which I have mentioned, ensures a full, enjoyable, effective and good life for himself and his other half. This attitude should be mutual and the partner must never feel at any time that he is actually in the role of a caretaker and not in the role of a life-companion. Unfortunately, most consumers find themselves without a partner even if before the crisis they had a healthy relationship. The new situation forces many couples to break up the relationship and to actually leave the consumer alone in the battle. There are many consumers who are not lucky enough to ever meet a suitable partner and are forced to remain on their own for many years. Relationships also carry a heavy weight in the life of the consumer and anyone who is interested may read an entire chapter I have written in the past regarding relationships.

 

Occupation keeping occupied and/or having a steady job forces the consumer to return to a lifestyle as normal as possible. Occupation provides each person with a purpose in life. There is something to wake up to every morning. Occupations can and should give satisfaction to those involved therein, it can give the consumer a source of income beyond any budget he receives, it forces him to get out of bed and do things for himself which are positive for the mind and body. There is nothing like creation and activity in order to release things that burden the soul. It compels the consumer to take care of himself and not to lose it. In this way he will actually carry on with the treatment and not take it lightly, since he will fear loosing his place of occupation/income. Occupation need not necessarily be a place of work, it can also be a hobby, volunteer work and, in fact, any routine and permanent activity beyond eating and sleeping. The occupation needs to be an active activity, not a passive activity such as watching television. Any activity which takes the consumer out of his four walls and causes him to be involved in activities which will make him forget about the illness and actually give him positive goals in life - is blessed.

 

Treatment - There is nothing like suitable treatment in order to keep the consumer out of any trouble. You can compare treatment to a bullet-proof vest worn by a soldier. It is used as a protective vest against pressures and all sorts of triggers which may cause the illness to come out of its remission (rest) state. It is important to remember that usually the consumer suffers from disorders such anxiety, psychosis, depression, mania, etc. for only 3%-5% of his life, and the rest of the time he is in remission. In order to maintain the state of remission for as long as possible, the treatment must be suited to each and every person. One person's treatment need not necessarily be similar to another person's treatment and it is usually different from the treatment received by another consumer. The smart thing to do is to reach an optimal dosage that will not overload the body systems but will still be of such a level that enables maintaining a state of remission. It is important to have a finger on the pulse regarding the type of treatment and its level in order to avoid unpleasant situations in the future. Sometimes it takes a long time until the correct treatment is found. It is important to not give up and to try and change medication until you reach the correct medication at the optimal dosage which will mostly do you good. Often, the families are helpless in the treatment of their relatives in hospitals. It is important to have a finger on the pulse and if any treatment is not good, or fails in obtaining the desired results for the consumer - do not keep quiet! If possible, you may wish to involve external bodies, to send letters and to initiate an action which could lead to the desired outcome. Such action could be, for example, sending a letter to a hospital manager and/or alternatively hiring the services of an external doctor to receive a professional opinion of the most suitable treatment for the consumer.

 

In summary, there is no magical solution, one solution is appropriate for one consumer, whereas a different solution is appropriate for another consumer, there is no one magical formula for everyone. It is important to be open-minded, to search and dig up all existing information resources, to learn of all the illness symptoms and most importantly - to not give up and break down. It is further important to remember and understand that we are all flesh and blood and what has happened to someone else may also happen to us. We must keep our strength, and also give ourselves the mental peace and quiet we deserve. It is important to remember that we as a family also have lives of our own and a member of our family who has suffered a mental breakdown cannot and must not cause us to break down and devote our entire attention only to him, at the expense of other people who also need our attention. He must understand that we also have a life of our own and it is also our right to live it, however you need not be extreme to either side. As with everything in life, the correct balance needs to be found. 

Written by Ronen David

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2008 Ronen David, ISRAEL