• La Shawn Splane-Wilburn

Why Should I Take Mental Health Caregiver Training If I don't Know Anyone With A Mental Illness?

I like to encourage people to realize that any action is a good action if it's proactive and there is positive intent behind it. Michael J. Fox

If you are like many people today who hear of mental health and think of a mental hospital or a scene from a movie about someone suffering from a severe mental illness and doing horrible things to others, you don't see any reason why mental health should be of concern for you. Many people feel it's not a "real" illness. Taking a mental health caregiver training course could benefit you because more than likely you do know someone with a mental health disorder and/or you or someone you know may at some point have a mental health challenge.

I was at a meeting earlier this week with nurses and teachers for a school district and there was discussion about CPR certification. Everyone was concerned about the level of education of the instructor and whether or not he or she was Red Cross certified. As I sat listening to the various concerns and input I wondered at what point we will as a society began to view the state of someone’s mental health a serious concern. When will we show as much concern for the people who may have a mental health crisis and need assistance? When I shared my thoughts on why young people need to know about mental health and the importance of addressing the stigmas associated with mental health, so that young people will come forward with concerns or feel free to speak with a school nurse or teacher about mental health concerns...it was not met with half the enthusiasm as the CPR. There was lots of justification of the staff being more than qualified to deal with a mental health crisis rather than if the students had been educated enough to know they were even having a mental health crisis or who to go talk to if they did. More discussion about needing to hire more people or a more qualified individual and off the issue was brushed until the next meeting 2 months from then.

Although I understand the lack of urgency in the minds of so many who don't understand how prevalent mental health suffering is in our communities because at one time I didn't understand the full weight of it, I also understand how it almost destroyed our family and the the fight we face everyday as a result of mental health disorders would not be as manageable had we not become more educated on how to properly support a loved one with a mental health disorder and how to self manage our own mental health as well.

Everyday someone commits suicide because they believed it would stop their pain. Every day someone is secretly in emotional pain and doesn’t understand what is going on with their body or their mind. Early intervention is going to save so many people and instead of educating people on what the signs are of having a mental health disorder, or educating the public on what their role is in creating an environment where people are not ashamed of saying “I have a mental disorder”. Focus is on responding to the emergency once there is one instead of preventing one.

Many people believe they may never know anyone with a mental illness and for some that may be true, but for the bulk of us at some time or another we may be affected with a mental health concern or know someone who may.

Mental illness can happen as a result of many things, a divorce, a job loss, becoming a victim of a crime, and addiction to drugs or alcohol. Some people have suffered a mental break down as the result of trauma. Knowing in advance what to do for yourself if you should find yourself in a place where you need mental health intervention, its great to have had that discussion ahead of time. You may feel I’m stronger than anything that could ever break me mentally...I'm sure most of us who are survivors thought the very same thing.

What happens if a mate becomes mentally ill? How will you handle care? Is this a discussion you have had as a family? These and many other questions are some you should be posing to one another.

We live in a time where technology has made it very easy to find what we have predispositions for so that we can take preventative measures. Speaking with a doctor about mental health concerns is as easy as asking about a test to be screened for a mental health disorder. Are there ways to know if you are predisposed to having a mental illness? (Look up if there is a way to find out if there is a mental illness lurking in the gene pool) Many families never have this discussion even when there is an individual who has a mental illness in the family it is kept as a secret, or people suffer for years and generations never knowing what the cause is or was for someone’s behavior.

Proactive Versus Reactive

One of the best ways to have a good life is to live it. There are so many things that can go good for us if we allow them to. There are ways we can have a direct impact on the quality of life that we have. Many things however are out of our control, we learn this with our first heart break, our first job loss, or our first betrayal from a friend. Bouncing back from adversity requires first understanding that bad things happen, and there is just nothing we can do about it sometimes. What we can do is control how we react to what happens to us.

No one thinks about mental illness as a possibility for themselves or their loved ones, we rarely even think of illness at all until it visits our home. One of the common responses people have when faced with a health diagnosis is, "I always thought it would be someone else's story and not mine."

When I found out about my sons diagnosis I didn't realize how serious the diagnosis was. I knew I'd heard people for years say "oh the weather is so Bipolar.." or "She's so moody, i think she’s' Bipolar." To me it was just a person having alternating moods. I would never have guessed the affects that mania and depression could have on an individual and the intensity of the occurrences. I read everything I could find about the disorder, I watched videos and read blogs but nothing prepared me for the reality of having a mental health crisis until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety myself. I understood just how out of control one can be of their own body and their own emotions. There is something about an illness hitting so close to home that you feel it yourself, it changes your perspective and the level of respect you for someone battling the illness.

Our success came as I lay in the bed trying to figure out why everything the psychiatrist told me to do for my son wasn't working, and why we still couldn't stop warring with my son day in and day out. I stumbled onto an account online of a young man who was a Bipolar Disorder Survivor. I followed him just as he was going to have a presentation on television about his families experience with mental illness. During the journey of him presenting I came across a woman who commented on his page, an African American woman. I know you wonder what race has to do with it but at a time when I couldn't find anyone online speaking openly about mental health who looked like me, i began to buy into the stories family members were telling me. I was told I just needed to change the way I was thinking. I needed to be tougher on my son and not be an enabler, and a host of other bad advice. I was told doctors only want to put you on meds and if "you're not careful you may wind up with something worse or worse yet, in a mental hospital unable to go home.

Finding those two accounts changed my life as a caregiver and as a survivor. I began looking for people with depression and found there was a load of people talking about their struggles online. I began to see the value in the testimony of someone who was living with a mental illness and very few videos of wives who supported husbands with mental illness.

I learned the more I educated myself the better informed I became. I began to understand how powerful peer support and peer experiences truly were. I learned the extreme importance of preparation. In hindsight I would have taken a mental health preparation course if I could have but most importantly if I’d known I even needed the information.

Getting educated on the various mental illnesses out there gives us the advantage of knowing what to do if we or someone we know are ever in a crisis. I believe if we held classes or made mental health management a part of the curriculum in the schools there would be a shift in the way the public stigmatizes those with mental health conditions. The more you know the more compassion and empathy you have for someone who may be battling a mental health disorder, but most importantly the more compassion, patience and empathy you would have for yourself if a mental disorder became part of your life story.​

​Getting educated on what mental health is and how to help someone in a mental health crisis is what helps you to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. Don’t be caught off guard. Follow mental health accounts online, search Google for mental health resources in your area so that you know where to go in a time of crisis. Don’t wait until an emergency happens to decide what to do. Be proactive not reactive. NAMI.Org is a great resource. Start there.

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