Peer Support in Mental Illness

This past week I had the opportunity to visit a friend in the psych hospital. She is in the process of accepting her new diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1. My diagnosis. While I knew something was going on with her before, it is certainly best that she is in the hospital, receiving the care she needs. As her friend, and as someone who is living with the disorder, and someone educated in mental health, I want to do whatever I can to be there for her, and help her through this complicated time. This brings me to an important topic- peer support.

Peer support for those with a mental illness is so essential in acquiring mental wellness. Associating with peers who understand and can relate to what you are going through can help to form a bond. Having a support system of friends who also live with a mental illness, and who can relate is helpful in a different way from those who do not. Either way, there are things peers can do to help ease the burden of treatment and every day struggles.

Taken from the DBSA website:

What You Can Say That Helps

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • I understand you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do now to help you.
  • I am here for you. We will get through this together.

What You Should Avoid Saying

  • It’s all in your head.
  • We all go through times like this.
  • You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • You have so much to live for; why do you want to die?
  • I can’t do anything about your situation.
  • Just snap out of it.
  • Stop acting crazy.
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Shouldn’t you be better by now?

Peer support groups are also really helpful. I attend the DBSA peer support groups twice a month and I appreciate the freedom and safety of being able to openly express myself. I can share whatever I’m feeling, if I’m having an episode, and any difficulties I’m going through. The meetings are confidential and exclusive to those with bipolar disorder or depression, and their loved ones. I will be encouraging my friend to participate in groups as well, once she is discharged from the hospital.

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Bipolar Disorder = No Life Insurance?

Defective and rejected is how I feel after learning I was denied life insurance due to my bipolar disorder. When I first got this information today, I was confused because as far as I knew, I was perfectly healthy. I wracked my brain for reasons they could deny me- maybe my psychiatrist hadn’t given enough information, maybe the insurance company looked at old records, maybe it was a technical error. I then reviewed my current situation- I haven’t had a bad episode since last year, I haven’t been suicidal in a year, I’m on a good medication regimen, I go to work, I’m in a healthy relationship. What gives? I decided to do a little research about bipolar disorder and life insurance and this whole denial thing. What I learned is this isn’t uncommon. What I think is it’s certainly unfair.

According to insure.com, there are several factors insurers look at when it comes to bipolar disorder. Two main things are control and compliance. They said that acquiring and maintaining treatment are essential. Another key factor is what type of bipolar you have. There is a heightened risk associated with bipolar I, compared to bipolar II, and it falls outside most insurers’ comfort zones. The reasoning- because people who suffer from it have a higher suicide rate. Insurers have to go by statistics when it comes to suicidal tendencies. Because I wanted to know exactly why I was declined coverage, I called to see what they could tell me. Apparently according to the report, having bipolar disorder puts me in a higher risk category, as well as the specific medications that I am taking. The agent suggested weaning off of meds, and if I could be off of them for two years, they could reinstate my application. Obviously, I know this is counterproductive so I did not consider it for a second. Instead, I tried not to feel too discouraged, and I am looking into the alternative accident insurance policies instead.

Has anyone else had this experience?

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