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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Say it Forward Campaign to End Stigma

Stigma. We all have experienced it at one time or another. Maybe directly, maybe vicariously, maybe we’ve simply been affected by the very notion of it. We’ve been made to feel embarrassed and ashamed about having a mental illness. We’ve been hesitant to seek help. We have certainly attempted to hide our mental illness from people we know. We tend to blame ourselves and feel out of place. It’s time we join together and do something about stigma. Here is someone who has:

When it comes to mental health conditions, silence is not golden. Silence breeds stigma, and stigma hurts: it prevents people from seeking life-saving treatment and support. That’s why the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) have joined forces to promote Say It Forward 2013, an email and social media anti-stigma campaign that educates people about the reality of mental health conditions.

The Say it Forward Campaign is a fantastic quest to reach out to others to educate them on the facts of mental illness. The campaign sight offers three ways to contact people you know either through email, Twitter, or Facebook, and then provides this list of myths and facts:

Myth: I don’t know anyone who has a mental health condition.
Fact: According to the World Health Organization, 1 in every 4 people, or 25% of individuals, develops one or more mental health disorders at some stage in life. They are your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors.

Myth: Mental health conditions are not real medical illnesses.
Fact: Like heart disease and diabetes, mental health disorders are real, treatable conditions.

Myth: Bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions are not life-threatening.
Fact: Among individuals with bipolar disorder, 25–50% attempt suicide at least once, and suicide is a leading cause of death in this group. This serious condition can be treated, and treatment saves lives.

Myth: People with a severe mental illness are dangerous and violent.
Fact: Statistics show that those who live with from mental health conditions are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator. They are nearly five times more likely to be a victim of murder, and people with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis are 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population.

Myth: People with a mental health conditions aren’t capable of maintaining relationships or pursuing the career of their choice.
Fact: Individuals with mental health conditions can and do lead full, happy, productive lives—as mothers, friends, and spouses; as teachers, doctors, and lawyers.

It is important to have these conversations with loved ones and friends. Using the myths and facts is a wonderful tool in breaking the ice on the topic of mental illness. The campaign encourages each one of us to become involved and help put an end to stigma once and for all.

To learn more about the Say it Forward Campaign, check out their website: http://www.sayitforwardcampaign.org/

Sources: http://www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org/  and  http://www.dbsalliance.org/

Say it fwd

Am I a Stability Snob?

You’re all crazy and I’m perfect. This mental superiority crept it’s way into my consciousness last night at my bipolar support group meeting. When I had the floor I shared nothing but positive events, all trickling from my new-found stability. I had a smile on my face while I talked about the classes I’m taking, while I mentioned that my job finally keeps me busy, and that I’m on a good cocktail of meds. I felt like I was bragging. I am currently the most stable I’ve been in over 6 months. This is a huge accomplishment and gives me even more motivation. I couldn’t help but notice that very few others shared my sense of wellness. There were tears during others’ stories. Some spoke of loneliness and depression. There is a possibility that I was indirectly making others feel badly about their own lack of stability. I’m not saying I feel guilty about being well, because I don’t. However, am I a stability snob? Have I reached a point where I can display the shining example of what everyone else wants to be?

I suppose some of this is tongue in cheek as I poke fun at my seemingly bratty attitude. I sit, attentively in my group, and I listen to recent hospital stories, medication failures, various struggles and despair, and I know I can most certainly relate to so much of what my group-mates are saying. The thing is- I don’t want to. Not right now. Right now I’m enjoying feeling good. I’m enjoying my social life, I’m ecstatic over having a baby, I am psychosis free and haven’t had any crying spells, I am able to sleep soundly at night, and I started driving on the express way again. Maybe I am overly eager to share my improved conditions. Maybe I am aware that I’m in a place, mentally, that others aim to reach. But I don’t think I’m being boastful or rude about it. I’m climbing my way to the top of the world one day at a time.

If You Have A Bipolar Loved One

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Very recently I was asked for advice on something that is very important regarding Bipolar Disorder and loved ones. How do you talk to someone with Bipolar Disorder? What can you do to show support to a loved one with Bipolar?

Most of us reading this know that it’s a sensitive subject and all too often someone will say the wrong thing and we may react in a manner that is the start of the next world war. It is imperative to have a solid support system. Loved ones who you can trust to be there for you no matter what, and who can help you out with your Bipolar Disorder during an episode.

I’ve compiled a list of some ways loved ones can show their support in the most effective manner possible.

Validation.
Validate the disorder and take your loved one seriously. This is possibly the most important thing to remember, and could make or break your relationship with your person. Validate that what they are feeling is real and not ‘just in their head’. Accept that they have some limitations and that the limitations are part of the Bipolar Disorder. If there was something they could do yesterday, but cannot do it today, believe that it’s true, and accept that it is part of it, but that it will be okay.

Reassurance.
Tell your loved one that you are there for them and that you love them no matter what. Bipolar Disorder is a very involved illness and every individual with BP is unique, with unique symptoms, which may progress over time. They need to know that you are not going to judge them or become annoyed with their disorder. Many people with Bipolar tend to experience feelings of guilt. Offer that reassurance that it is not their fault, and you do not blame them for them having BP.

Education.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your loved one is to learn about Bipolar Disorder. This includes the different types, the symptoms, the treatments, and everything involved. There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder- only treatment, meaning BP will be in your loved one’s life for the rest of their life. Encourage them to help you learn. There are many excellent books, websites, and organizations that provide resources.

Practice Patience.
Bipolar Disorder is not an easy diagnosis to swallow, nor is it that easy to live with. Try to remember for all the frustration and irritation you may feel, your loved one feels it even more so. They may even feel guilt for being sick, or experience low self-esteem. Bipolar people can be easily distracted, have difficulty with concentration and focus, and be forgetful. Expressing anger and frustration will only make a bad situation worse. It is crucial that you have patience.

Be Respectful.
Show your loved one respect when it comes to their Bipolar Disorder. Please watch that you do not treat them as if they are less-than or stupid. Don’t say things to make them feel like they’re crazy. Bipolar is just like any other illness and you wouldn’t look at someone with Diabetes or high blood pressure like they’re a damaged good. It’s the same thing; just instead of a physical, medical condition, your loved one has a mood condition- or chemical imbalance in the brain. Another way to show respect is to take your loved one for their word and don’t try to push them. If something is bothering them, don’t make light of it and assume that it is petty, and expect them to move on. Respect that if they get into a certain mood, and have to handle a situation their own way, that this is probably preventative and they are controlling a potential trigger.

Be Helpful.
You can help your loved one not just by saying you’ll be there for them, but by actually being there. Participate in things like scheduling appointments and offer to help organize things at home. If he or she needs help managing medications, go ahead and offer your assistance. My wife counts mine out each week and assigns the proper pills into the daily pill sorter. As trivial as it may seem to someone without a mood disorder, may of us with BP have a hard time with medications. (And many of us have a harder time admitting it.)

Trust.
Do your loved on a favor and trust that they can still make their own decisions, even about treatment. Sure, sometimes they may need a little bit of extra help, but they can still function at a high capacity when they are well. Please do yourself the favor of trusting him or her, otherwise you will feel like the crazy person trying to keep up with every possible mood, emotion, swing, and trigger.

Here are a few tips:
• Not every swing is an episode.

• Consider external factors before jumping to conclusions.

• Don’t assume someone knows when he or she is having a manic or depressed episode, conversely, don’t assume someone doesn’t know when they is having a manic or depressed episode. Talk to them.

• Don’t get upset if he or she is forgetful. BP affects the memory, as do medications that treat BP. Try to be patient if they don’t remember things.

• Don’t assume someone is overreacting for no reason or “just being dramatic”. Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder, which may lead to a dark depression or fit of rage.

• Make your friend or family member recognize and take responsibility for their illness and actions, should they become irritable or say something unkind. Then forgive them and love them regardless.

• It is not okay to joke about Bipolar Disorder, even if your loved one does so him or herself. It is a defense mechanism and their right to do so.

• Work together to recognize triggers and develop a confidence system, where you can be open with one another if you notice any behavior or thought patterns that may be unhealthy.

• Respect boundaries and don’t hover.

• Be positive and praise the progress your loved one makes.

For additional information, see: What Not to Say to Someone With Bipolar Disorder

What Not to Say to Someone With Bipolar Disorder

There are several hurtful things that you could say to a person with Bipolar Disorder that will make them feel like garbage, destroy their self-confidence, and possibly contribute a trigger for an episode. So learn what they are and don’t say them!

What not to say to someone with Bipolar Disorder:

“You are crazy/insane/abnormal/psycho.”
This can be taken as nonsense if it is clearly meant in terms of slang, but for someone who is newly diagnosed, or having a hard time with their diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, they may take it as meaning “completely unable to think clearly or behave properly”, which is pretty offensive.

“Bipolar Disorder doesn’t exist.”
This revolves around validating the diagnosis. Validate the disorder and take your loved one seriously, otherwise you not taking them seriously could be detrimental to their treatment process.

“Snap out of it.”
BP is a real illness and nobody can just come out of it, so don’t tell them to. It’s just plain ignorant!

“It’s just hormonal/PMS.”
While hormones can make BP worse, BP is a disorder independent of any other. Don’t offend someone & mix it up with a different diagnosis. You will come off as ignorant and like you don’t care to learn the facts.

“You have Bipolar, so you’re lazy/stupid/whiny.”
None of these offensive words are used to describe Bipolar Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That’s all I’m going to say about this one.

“You’ll never have a real life.”
That is simply not true. While living with BP certainly isn’t always easy, most everyone can have a very active and fulfilling life with the proper treatment and medication.

“There is nothing wrong with you, everybody has mood swings.”
While it’s true that even among those who do not have a diagnosable disorder that has mood swings, people have changes in mood. The mood changes are usually due to circumstances in life, home, and health.

“But you seem so normal!”
That may very well be. First I ask “what is normal?” Then I need people to understand that someone could be in between episodes, could be on medication that produces ‘normal’ behavioral results, or maybe you don’t see this person very often or haven’t known them very long. People can go years between episodes. Also, hypomania is very charismatic and attractive to others, so in that state someone with BP can potentially make several new friends.

“Isn’t that what serial killers have?”
Probably not. Honestly, a serial killer is much more likely to have Antisocial Personality Disorder, or be a sociopath or psychopath.

“Just take medication and you’ll be fine.”
While medication helps tremendously, it doesn’t always help everyone, and it certainly does not get rid of the disorder or treat all of the symptoms.

Please do not be afraid to talk to your friends and family members about their Bipolar diagnosis. This was just meant as a guide to help the ease of conversations between you and your loved ones.

Stay tuned for some helpful tips on how to offer support to your Bipolar peeps!