When an individual within a family is diagnosed with a serious mental illness, (i.e.
Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder), the foundation within the family is often shaken
to its core. The news is devastating, and the diagnosed family member, due to the
illness,is not be able to function in the same way as before. This individual will more
than likely require daily medication, and a great deal of support. The illness usually
strikes in the early to mid-twenties, at one’s prime of life, which makes the situation
that much more difficult. Children may also be diagnosed with these disorders as
well, and their prognosis usually is not as good. Families are often at a loss
regarding how to cope with the situation, and what is best for the diagnosed
individual. Many families bring their son or daughter back home to live. Many
families end up having to keep their loved one at home, in order to care for them.
After some time, the caregivers can understandably feel overwhelmed, and
hopefully, will find support for themselves. According to research in this area, less
than 1% of all clients with these disorders go into remission. Schizophrenia affects
the frontal cortex of the brain. This is the center of what we call executive
functioning. This vital aspect of our brains, is described this way by Dr. James
Chandler, MD FACP, “The executive in a company is the person who is in charge.
She or he is the person who plans out how the resources of the company will be
used. She decides what the priorities are. She decides what direction things will
take in the long term. When there are conflicting reports or demands, the executive
decides what to do about it. In a word, the executive is paid to think about things,
look at the big picture, and keep the future in mind. In the brain, a large part of
what the frontal areas do is executive functioning. They are the parts of the brain
that decide the big issues like what are we going to do next? They allocate
resources to different projects. They are supposed to help a person look at multiple
possibilities when a decision needs to be made.” What can families do to best
advocate for their loved one who has been diagnosed with serious mental illness?
The following ideas and resources may be helpful:
1) Contact the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) It’s resources can
provide information, caregiver support groups, and recommendations.
2) Explore local resources such as non-profits that work with this population, and
can assist with case management services, and support to families.
3) Follow the latest in research on the website, NARSAD. www.narsad.org.
4) Due to the frontal cortex being negatively affected by the illness, individuals with
these illnesses may not understand the need for them to take medication. However,
the newer anti-psychotic medications have less side effects than ever before. The
right medication that provides the assistance to your loved one
with a minimum of side effects can be found by a combination of the psychiatrist’s
knowledge, and trial and error. Speak to a psychiatrist who specializes in these
conditions regarding medication.
5) In my 8 yrs of experience working with this population, I realized how important it
is for adults with these conditions to have the opportunity to live outside of the
parent’s home in a Group Home, or semi-supervised apartment settings. However,
it can be understandably difficult for families to ask their loved one to make this
type of change from living at home.
6) If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.