Mental illness is extremely common. The odds that any one of us will suffer from it at one point in our life are overwhelming. Considering that, why are there so many people who go untreated?
It is amazing that in our “enlightened” society, there is still a prejudice which exists when it comes to society’s feelings about a person who has a mental condition. This is even exhibited in benefits which will be allowed under many major medical insurance plans. While the benefit may typically be 80 percent for a “normal” medical condition, it may only be 50 percent for a condition that has to do with the mind. Further, people are reluctant to mention having a history of, let us say, depression, for an insurance application, or, in a job interview, for fear of negative fallout. A person, who would have no qualms mentioning a gallbladder problem, will go to great measures to avoid mentioning their battle with mental illness. This isn’t their fault. They have been conditioned by society to be circumspect in how much they reveal about themselves.
Interestingly, part of the limitation of benefits by insurance carriers is a reaction to the difficulty in getting a mental condition identified and diagnosed.
Why is it so difficult to identify a person with a mental or emotional disorder?
Mental conditions can sometimes simply be extensions of “normal” behavior. If I typically have a “down” attitude, becoming morbidly depressed may not register with my family in the same way it would if I were a very cheerful person. Similarly, if I am moody, it is hard to see the change that occurs when a person develops Manic Depression.
Let me share with you how we were able to identify the fact my mother had become paranoid schizophrenic.
First, she began to have highly charged emotional outbursts. She would simply be talking to us, when her face would become tense and taught and she would glare. This was followed by, typically, an accusatory remark. She would then return to her previous state just as quickly. There was really no way to avoid her reaction by your behavior. That, in fact, is the first thing I would suggest as a sign of a problem; reactions do not reflect the “normal” response to a given comment. In other words, if the “mood” of the conversation is happy, and, a terrible reaction occurs for no reason, it is time to take notice.
Detached conversation is a key. If the general conversation is about the love of dogs, and your loved one relates it to a story about aliens form another planet, there might be a problem. With my mother it was this type of “bizarre” transition that first tipped the family off that there might be a problem. If the way to give a Collie a bath gives way to a comment about how terrible Hitler was because he prevented millions of Jewish children from having pets, it makes sense to begin to be aware of a person’s conversation.
Look for life-changing events that can trigger an emotional problem. In my mother’s case, it was the sudden death of my father. Compounding the grief was massive guilt in that she had a fight with him right before he died.
Hallucinatory behavior is self-explanatory. Again, in my mother’s case, she began to think that car license plates were sending her messages by code, depending on their letters and numbers. Of course, she was the only one who could interpret the “code”.
That actually leads to another point which is anytime a person becomes “self-contained” when they had been pretty social is a warning symptom.
Thinking a person is behaving towards you in a certain way that is unproven, such as “love you”, or, “hate you”, is a possible sign of a mental problem.
A grouping of symptoms might be aggression, anger, malaise or sadness. Additional things to look for might be extremely fast or intense mood swings. Manic depressives can see how they might control the world one day and not know how to get out of bed the next. Simply looking for unusual behavior is very beneficial. It is very helpful if you start to believe a person is having a problem to get another person you trust, and, who knows them, to be around them, to see if they agree
A major issue that answers the question “why aren’t more people diagnosed?” is, that a loved one of a sick person is not going to get much help, either from the person, or, society. It is an understood, and, certainly an accurate fact that no one wants to be told they are “nuts” or even “not acting right”. The fear of that stigma comes to the fore right away. That isn’t the greatest challenge. We have so many protective laws today regarding a person’s rights, that it is nearly impossible to have a person “committed”. It is nearly an impossibility to get a person treatment against their will. Nothing is more gut-wrenching than watching someone you love become sicker and sicker and have no effective appeal process.
Family will often be no help. Most families have at least one person who thinks it is their job to “protect” the person suffering with the mental problem. They are not doing anyone a favor; they are just perpetuating a terrible situation.
To reiterate, first, look for a trigger; for a life-changing experience in someone’s life experience. Look for changes in personality from that which the person typically exhibits. Look for attributes that might be exaggerated such as aggression, mood swings, sadness, happiness, energy, self-awareness. Look for hallucinatory behavior and, for paranoid behavior. Look for your loved one’s interpretation of events and, listen for their assessment of other people they interact with. Finally, have other people that know the loved one to spend some time with them to make sure that you aren’t being over sensitive to the situation.
Once a person is sure that their loved one needs medical assistance, go into the situation understanding not to expect a lot of help from the medical profession. Don’t expect to be treated like a hero for caring enough to watch a loved one. More likely you will be treated just the reverse; like a “busybody”.
Your best bet is to try to convince the person who has the problem to get help. Whether it means getting children involved; religious counselors involved, friends; or, best friends and other family members, stay at the task. Just remember you are all that this person has.
There is nothing easy about this issue. It is hard to take responsibility for a person who has historically been self-sufficient; it is hard to see changes in a loved one’s personality. It is almost as bad as losing someone to death.
I have some experience with this issue. I have to say that the hardest thing is that I missed the person I loved. I was used to having them as a part of my life, and, all of a sudden the roles were reversed, and, I no longer had that resource in my life.
The reason that so many people don’t get treatment is because there are so many people who aren’t willing to pay the admittedly very difficult price to love them enough to forfeit their own comfort to get the job done. Remember, when a mentally ill person has a problem; they can’t self-diagnose; you are all they have.