By Jayson M. Brunelle
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. As a psychotherapist, I am all too familiar with the devastation that mental illness brings about. Many psychiatric disorders, depending upon their severity and duration, often affect every dimension of life. Many persons with mental illness cannot hold a job or advance in their career; they often have an extremely low opinion of themselves; they are more likely to have suicidal ideation/plans/attempts; they often experience profound anguish and distress; quite often they live in poverty; they are more likely to develop a co-morbid substance abuse/dependence problem in an effort to alleviate the intensity of their intra-psychic ego-dystonia and anguish; they are misunderstood by many, including family members and close friends.
In a word, the hallmark characteristics of mental illness include possible danger to self or others, deviant behavior, subjective experiences of distress and an inability to carry out the typical, normal activities of daily living. If you know someone who suffers with mental illness, you probably have a strong desire to help this person but may not know what to say or do. As a therapist, may I suggest that you simply reach out to the individual by letting them know you’re there and that you care. Don’t worry about what to say or what not to say; just listen. If they trust you, they may share their experiences; they might break into tears as a consequence of having held in so much pain for so long. You may not realize it, but you have the power to help ease their burden simply by listening to them, by validating their emotions and feelings, and by helping them to feel loved and accepted just as they are.
As I stated above, mental illness can be profoundly devastating in that it quite often affects practically every aspect of the individual’s life. Let’s do our best to raise awareness of the tremendous plight of the mentally ill, their families and loved ones. Let’s work to eradicate the many stigmas and the labeling associated with mental illness by first educating ourselves and then educating others, especially those who may be ignorant of the biopsychosocial etiology or causes of such illnesses. Let us encourage, support and fund medical research in this arena. Finally, and most importantly, let us pray for those who suffer, that they might experience some much-needed relief from the seriously painful symptoms which, in many instances, are their constant companions. May God bless each of those souls chosen by God to carry the heavy cross of emotional/mental illness through an intimate participation in the mysteries of Christ’s agony in the garden and His crowning with thorns. Blessed are you, for your reward in heaven is great.