Over the course of the last 20 years as a mental health nurse, I have seen a lot of true mental illness issues. The staff on board, the public and even the doctors at one time or another have called some clients “nuts.”
Mental illness has a very long history of being a hidden and shameful illness that has been around since the Bible was written. It’s the most stigmatic illness in the medical field. It’s an illness that no one really wants to talk about.
It’s sad to see someone come into the hospital who is so sick that she can’t even keep her own body clean, take care of daily functions or have someone to call on the phone to listen—even when she is in control. The families of the mentally ill persons are tired and sometimes just don’t bother to call or visit because they don’t know how to handle the behavior.
When someone goes into the hospital for open heart surgery, has a stroke, is involved in a car wreck or has a brain injury, that person’s name will be placed on the prayer list at churches. The patient will get cards, flowers, phone calls and many visits that sometimes wear him out.
When a person is newly diagnosed with bipolar, depression or schizophrenia, there are very few flowers, cards or even phone calls. The community still doesn’t understand the disease, so they do nothing. The person with the mental illness now feels even more confused and more alone.
Now let me make myself clear. I have seen many clients who pluck my last nerve after I’ve worked a 13-hour shift, and I totally understand that their families and friends are sometimes at their wits’ end. However, as mentally ill patients get better and are under better control of their illness—whether by using prescription medications or a natural vitamin mixture—they will heal better if they have a support system to lean on once in a while. If they don’t, they don’t have the motivation to get better because no one cares. Then the illness really takes over.
Mental health is at the beginning of a new era. Mental illness is being seen as a medical condition like any other condition. The idea that the family or the individual is to blame for mental illness is slowly fading. We are at the stage where people with mental illness can get the same kind of respect, care and services as other people who have a disability. Training the people who receive care and the people who work in the mental health system about what prejudice is and how to cope with the stigma of mental illness is important.
If you know someone who has mental illness, take the time to learn more about the disease. Instead of reacting in fear, get educated and understand more. If you can’t bear the thought of seeing her in person, send a card.
What else can nurses do to cope and help others cope with mental illness in the family?
Angela Brooks has worked in a state-funded psychiatric hospital in Kentucky for 21 years as a nurse, assisting sometimes-dangerous patients who come in shackled and cuffed. At angelabrook.com, she offers stories of life on the inside of a psychiatric ward, and the site, as well as her company, offers support for nurses in the mental health field and helps them bring passion into their role at work. She is also a natural health expert.
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