Psychologists Recommend Tips Surrounding Serious Mental Illness



Oct. 5-11 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week

WASHINGTON (October 1, 2014) — Mental health disorders affect 1 in 5 Americans each year, yet only a fraction of those people receive treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Oct. 5-11, 2014, is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. The American Psychological Association offers tip sheets and videos to help families and friends identify warning signs and support their loved one who has a mental health condition.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, according to National Institute of Mental Health. Serious mental illnesses include a variety of mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although the diagnosis can seem scary, it is important to remember that these disorders are treatable. People diagnosed with a serious mental illness can live full, rewarding lives, especially if they seek treatment as needed.

Friends and family can provide invaluable support for individuals dealing with a serious mental illness. Psychologists recommend the following tips for helping your loved one with a serious mental illness:

  • Encourage your loved one to seek help. If you’re concerned your loved one is exhibiting signs of a serious mental illness, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. It’s easy to imagine the worst-case scenario, but signs of mental illness often overlap with other problems. Express your concerns without using alarmist language or placing blame. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you seem more stressed than usual,” or “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately.” Then back up those statements with facts, pointing out, for example, changes in hygiene or daily activities.
  • Educate yourself about the mental illness. It is entirely normal to experience a flurry of emotions when your loved one is diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Acceptance can take time for everyone involved. One of the most important things you can do to support your loved one is to educate yourself. The more you learn about what to expect, the easier it will be to provide support.
  • Provide balanced support. It can be easy to want to take charge when your loved one is struggling with a serious mental illness, but individuals are more likely to thrive when they are allowed to take responsibility for their own lives. Engage your loved one in open and honest conversations about what they’re feeling and what they’d like from you.

People living with serious mental illness still experience stigma and misconceptions. While that can be a difficult reality, the fact is that people diagnosed today can expect better outcomes than ever before. Medications have improved, and new evidence-based psychotherapeutic interventions can have powerful and positive effects. People with a serious mental illness often go on to live satisfying and productive lives, even with the limitations of their illness. So try to stay positive. One of the most important things you can do to support a loved one with serious mental illness is to have hope.

For more information visit the Psychology Help Center page and follow @APAHelpCenter on Twitter.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

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