Coordinated by Sandra Burgess, MSW, LCSW
Mental Health America and its partner organizations have coordinated the observance of May as Mental Health Month throughout the United States since 1949. During this month, information to promote good mental health and treatment for common mental health issues is disseminated via media outlets, free depression screenings, and other community events.
This year, Mental Health America is highlighting a campaign called Risky Business, an effort to educate the public about some habits or behaviors that can lead to mental illness, be warning signs of present mental illness, or worsen an existing mental health issue. Some of these behaviors include substance abuse or misuse of prescription drugs or even excessive exercise routines!
Help for Mental Health Issues
In the US, help for mental health issues is accessible to those with or without the ability to pay for it. Community mental health clinics are good places to look for a range of services and payment options. It’s a good idea to contact your primary physician because he/she can examine you to rule out that you are not dealing with a physical health problem that causes mental health symptoms. Your primary doctor can also provide a referral to a mental health provider. In addition, cities have telephone crisis lines staffed 24 hours a day by professionals, or you may visit your local hospital emergency room. Do not be afraid to reach out for assistance and know that you are not alone; millions of Americans are affected by mental health problems.
A Strong Support System Is Crucial
A strong support system is crucial for the well-being of those who live with mental health disabilities. Peer Advisor Amy L. Bovaird shares how, with careful forethought, she developed an action plan to aid her brother when their mother died after a short illness.
Six Ways to Manage Grief with Mental Health Issues by Amy Bovaird
My mother, age 87, my grown brother, and I all lived together in our family homestead in Pennsylvania. We all had our issues: my mother who was elderly, me with low vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, and my brother who has bipolar disorder. But somehow we melded together and formed a strong unit. My mother kept us on schedule. I cooked and helped my mother with the household chores. My brother drove us where we needed to go and picked up Mom’s and his medicines. We also served as companions to each other. It wasn’t perfect, but we always worked it out.
On April 29, my mother suffered a massive stroke and never recovered. She passed away on May 4, 2017.
To say we were grieving is an understatement. I believe we were also in shock. I also feared for my brother who has mental health issues. Major life changes had thrown him into long-lasting nervous breakdowns in the past. My mother was his strength throughout his life. Losing her threatened his safety net.
My two brothers and I had come together for my mother’s well-being, but it all began to unravel after her death.
The first thing my brother did was gamble his paycheck away. It wouldn’t help to get angry because it wouldn’t bring the money back. But it added more stress on me as the one who would have to pay the bills. He also sobbed uncontrollably and wandered aimlessly around the house. I couldn’t talk to him because he became furious. “Leave me alone when I’m grieving,” he shouted. He couldn’t sleep. He didn’t take his medicine—alarming as he takes 20 different types, including those for his mental health issues as well as other health issues—and he started to become manic.
It was a recipe for disaster as I was consumed with worry about him as well as having my own grief to deal with. My other brother had a business to run and didn’t have much time to spend with us. I kept telling myself, “We have to work it out. We can’t let him go off the deep end.”
I came up with a list of six action steps to bring us all together.
Prepare two healthy meals a day. I had to ensure my brother ate to ward off problems with diabetes and the heavy doses of his mental health medications. Whether I felt like cooking or not, I made meals. After the first couple of days, I got him to promise to be home to eat. I made him whatever he wanted so that he would look forward to eating. City chicken and steak were popular choices, and he appreciated my efforts.
Involve others in his grieving process. I asked my nieces and my brother’s family to take time out for him. He doesn’t have a large network of friends, so his family would have to stand and help him with these initial messy feelings—mostly by listening. Because my family members work, they have little free time, but my brother-in-law (now remarried) is part of his safety net, and I asked him to be ready to spend time with him. My younger brother took him out for lunch. I ate some peanut butter pie with him tonight. It’s all time well-spent.
Set up guidelines. For us, it was with my mother’s vehicle. I told my brother he could drive Mom’s car, but he could never smoke in it, and he could never take the car where my mother would not approve. It was my biggest fear now that he had a good car to drive, he might leave on a “road trip,” which is what he did when he was stressed. His destinations were Niagara Falls, Canada, Buffalo, New York, and other big cities. Also, because he resented us asking if he took his medicine, I told him to tell me that he had. That put more power in his hands. I also tried to reestablish our routine as much as possible.
Build ways to commemorate a loved one. My brother came up with this action point himself. “Every day I want to remember Mom in some way. Maybe you and I can go see the sunset like Mom and I used to do,” he said, his voice cracking. He listed other things he wanted to do daily.
Involve the person in positive activities. This will help the person stop thinking of “me” and start looking at others. I asked my brother to help write the thank-you cards. My brother has a big heart full of gratitude, so I could channel his energy in this area. He is touched by the kindness of others. It was a good plan.
Widen the network of those reaching out to him. I asked our preacher to check on him and maybe even go to a baseball game with him. The hospice pastor will also be checking in with him. His mental health counselor is aware of what is going on and checks on him frequently. I ask others to pray for him, to send cards to him, and to call him. He needs to know he is not alone.
Important to Reach Out to People with Mental Health Issues
It’s so important to reach out to those with mental health issues at any point but especially during a death of a close family member. This is when the person spirals out of control because their safety net has disappeared. Major life changes are frightening and can catapult a person into dangerous and destructive behaviors.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to emphasize these six action steps to reach out to someone who has bipolar or is suffering from other mental health issues. It is never easy, but I believe genuine concern for that person can reduce the fears that consume him or her.
Vision Loss Can Be a Trigger
Vision loss triggers thoughts and feelings that affect our mental health: depression, anger, anxiety, fear, loss of self-worth, and so on. Read the upcoming post by David Steele and Holly Bonner in which they discuss their experiences and perspectives.
Mental Health America contains a wealth of materials, including self-screenings for prevalent conditions, such as depression, PTSD, alcoholism and substance abuse, and anxiety. There are also links to explore support groups, treatment, getting help for yourself or for someone else, and listings of local agencies connected with Mental Health America.
Mental Health America Toll-Free Help Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Help Line for Information and Referral: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST Monday-Friday
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) began in 1979 with a small group of individuals who came together to advocate for family members. Today, it has hundreds of members who advocate for the rights of those with mental illness on the state and national level. The site features publications on specific illnesses, a place to share personal stories, and resources for obtaining assistance.