Monday, March 28, 2016

Coping with a Loved One's Mental Illness

Last Saturday, I heard the testimony of a father whose teenage son committed suicide in early 2015 after suffering clinical depression. He was in Taiwan on a business trip when his wife called and said their son was unstable. He flew back and saw his son. But on the following day, the 17 years old killed himself at home.

This was a case that the parents did not see the tragedy coming. Their son seemed happy, did well in school, had friends, and was involved in many activities. You could imagine the questions the dad asked himself and God. Questions such as

(1) Where did my son go since he stopped going to church in high school?
(2) Why do so many people with depression attempt suicide?
(3) How to look at a life that ended short?
(4) What's really important in life?
(5) What could parents do differently while they still have time?

Having comforted by God through his grief and loss, this father stood in front of hundreds to share his testimony, hoping to raise awareness of clinical depression which is a real sickness and an unseen killer. He described depression like a balloon losing air. The life force was let out. A person suffering depression is often tormented by repeated negative and destructive thoughts. In this day and age, through the Internet, everyone is constantly exposed to and bombarded by information which might induce negative thoughts about oneself, the world, and our future every day!

Witnessing the suffering of a loved one can be one of the most difficult situations we face. Among other things, we may feel powerless, frustrated and frightened. That’s true whether the suffering originates from a physical illness or injury, addiction or self-destructive activity.

When a loved one suffers a debilitating, persistent and chronic mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, those feelings can be compounded. Strange, unpredictable behaviors can be terrifying and confusing. Your loved one may suddenly rage at you with blame or be utterly dependent upon you for basic needs and emotional stability.

You may experience many confusing emotions yourself, including anger, grief, guilt, fear and sadness. As you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, since serious mental illness still carries a stigma, you may be keeping it a secret, resulting in increased isolation, frustration and difficulty because you may have no one to talk to about your feelings or no way to get information and support.

How to find Help

Crisis demands immediate attention. If it is an emergency, don't wait for the next day. It could mean life or death. Call 911.

Seek professional help. Just like physical illness, always seek proper diagnosis and treatments from appropriate professionals.

When you’re in the middle of a chaotic or confusing situation, taking care of yourself can be the last thing you think of, yet, it is crucial. It's like placing an oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a child with her mask during emergency on an airplane. According to NAMI, the National Association for the Mentally Ill, here are a few ways to do that:

Educate yourself about mental illness. Read everything you can about your loved one’s condition, its treatment options, as well as tools and strategies for coping with the illness and minimizing relapses. NAMI has a wealth of written and audio material, as well as 1,200 local U.S chapters.

Seek support. You do not have to suffer in silence. NAMI offers free support groups for loved ones as well as a HelpLine: 1-800-950-6264. You can find enormous relief from sharing your thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment among those who understand.
Accept the reality of the situation. While you can offer valuable support and love, you cannot cure your loved one’s mental disorder. His or her symptoms may get better or they may get worse. Hospitalization may be necessary. Medication can restore stability and functionality, but may not heal the condition. You may have to lower your expectations of what your loved one can do. For instance, he or she may only be able to attend school or work part-time or, in some cases, not at all.
Set boundaries and clear limits. If you feel strong resentment, you are giving too much. If you need a break from the situation, find a way to get it. Don’t tolerate violent behavior. As hard as it is, consider if you need to leave the situation or make other arrangements for care.
Don’t lose hope. Advances in our understanding and treatment of severe and chronic mental illness occur every day. People get better and learn effective ways to cope. Relapses can become less common and shorter in duration.

While your loved one may never completely heal, and coping with the situation may challenge you like nothing else, it is possible to learn how to manage the stress of the situation as you care for your loved one as well as yourself.

This grieving father was most concerned about his son's eternal destiny. He sought answers in prayers. By the grace of God, he has experienced miraculous ways in which God comforted him. Through a friend, a specific Bible passage, a past dream, a picture drawn by his son, the name of a college his son was accepted to, and a rainbow in the middle of a graveyard, he felt reassured repeatedly that his boy has gone to be with Jesus. Recently, he read what one husband wrote about his wife who died in a car accident: "We didn't lose her. If you lose something, you don't know where it is. I know exactly where my wife is."

So now this father could say, "I know exactly where my son is. He just returned to his eternal home earlier than we."

Of course he misses his son, but he is grateful to have his boy on earth with him for seventeen years. He urged parents to go home to hug, kiss, accept, affirm, and love their kids just for who they are. Where does his faith, hope and love come from?

As the Apostle Paul wrote in the Bible, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Here are links to additional articles on related topics:

10 Ways To Love Fearlessly
Hoping Is Not A Hopeless Endeavor
How Are You Coping With Grief And Loss?

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Happy belated Resurrection Sunday!

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

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