Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Where's Mom? Dad? Anyone?
I am very involved in BringChange2Mind and various other mental health organizations around the country. I am privileged to hear the stories of so many people struggling with mental health conditions. If I were conducting a research project I would sort all the "qualitative data" (the stories) and look for themes. Well, one doesn't have to be a researcher to find those themes concerning diagnosis and family. There is a re-occurring story of anguish, loneliness and loss. Countless people write to Linea and I letting us know that our close relationship and support is something they wish they also had. There is an absence of care for many who are temporarily or permanently in need. For every parent who turns away or doesn't know what to do or somehow gives the message that they are embarrassed or angry or not accepting of their child (no matter their age) there is a step backwards from a healthy lifestyle for the person suffering with a mental health disorder. A message is sent, "You don't matter", even if that is not what is meant.
I know that it is often very difficult to have a relationship with someone who is in the pits of mental illness. I know that often help is slapped away and therefore not offered again. I know that parents and family members often have their own problems and aren't able to offer support and assistance or can't even begin to figure out how to do so. But still....every person should have a circle of family available even if the people in that circle are not blood relations. A parent or family member or friend could simply ask, “How are you?” and “What can I do to help you?” and then, listen very carefully for the responses without judgment or blame.
There is a process called "Futures Planning" used to develop a plan for children and adolescents with disabilities. Some of the steps of this process might be useful here. These include answering the following questions:
What are your dreams?
Who can help you with these?
Who is in your inner, middle and outer circle of support?
The people identified in this process agree to provide an "unconditional circle of support". This might include family members, professionals and friends. Agreements are made between the participants and the person with the disability is an active partner EXCEPT when they are not able to do so because of their disability or illness. There are many who might benefit from a circle of care and support. I see the look of utter loneliness on the faces of people living on the streets and struggling with mental illness. Would a circle of care have prevented this sad life? I consult with a program for children and adolescents in foster care and I witness their own fractured circles. These children need a wrap-around system of care not broken apart every time they move from place to place, from school to school.
Finally I want to add that my daughter is not "lucky" that she has me, her dad and her family as she is often told. We are lucky to have her. Yes, it is difficult for families with few resources to support someone with mental illness and I know that we are privileged to have the resources that we do. I also know that this experience has provided me an opportunity to learn more than I previously could ever have imagined. It is because of both the terrifying experiences and the honesty and love offered that we are more thankful and joyous and…generally less worried about the small stuff!
I wish every person who is alone their own circle of care. Let us all be part of that circle.