Tag Archives: mental illness

“Schizophrenic and Successful”? What are the factors in success?

This recent New York Times Opinion Page essay is written by Law Professor, Elyn Saks. She tells a bit about her diagnosis of Schizophrenia years ago and her fight against those who thought that she would not amount to much. While we shouldn’t assume that everyone who struggles with delusions and hallucinations will rise to Dr. Saks level of accomplishments, we should take note where we give in to hopelessness when someone we love receives such a similar diagnosis. Such hopelessness will surely hamper our loved one’s prognosis for recovery.

There are two important factors that predict both recovery from mental illness and future recurrence of symptoms.

  1. Acceptance of diagnosis and treatment compliance
  2. Absence of family and social stressors

These factors are found in nearly all forms of mental illness, but especially pertinent for depression, mania, and psychotic disorders. When a person accepts the existence of a problem and commits to a treatment strategy, they are likely to be more cognizant of the signs and symptoms re-appearing and therefore willing to seek additional help. When medications create irritating side effects, the committed person will either find ways to tolerate these irritations or work with their doctor to find alternative treatments.

The absence or minimization of family stress requires the family or community to not behave in ways that exacerbate the problem. The family must also accept the limitations and not act in ways that place unrealistic expectations on the patient. This of course requires a great deal of sacrifice–on top of existing grief and loss over relationships that will not be what they could be (e.g., caretaking a spouse with mania, supporting an adult child who needs a sheltered environment). This means releasing the demand for the patient to reciprocate empathy or have insight about their impact on the family. Still further, when we loved ones maintain a hopeful perspective–identifying a patient’s value, capacity, and possibility for a future–we offer that person the greatest chance for success.

For some, success may mean being able to hold down a steady cashier job. For others, success may mean staying out of the hospital. Still others may rise to Dr. Saks level of success in academia. If you have a family member who suffers with mental illness, work hard to see them beyond their illness and evaluate their current capacities (rather than by their best or worst day). Oh, and be sure to find someone to talk to. Your family member isn’t the only one who needs help coping with a difficult world!

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Filed under counseling, counseling science, Psychology

Serious Mental Illness and faith: what to do?

Had a meeting today with two people from UPENN (one a prof) who are working to break down barriers for those with Serious mental illness (SMI). They have found that folks with SMI are quite likely to acknowledge spiritual or religious beliefs and identity. And yet, these folks say there are two serious roadblocks for finding support. First, the church does not seem particularly open to folks with SMI. Second, mental health professionals are either unsupportive or downright negative about the faith/beliefs of those with SMI.

Actually, the UPENN folks said they had more hope that the church would be open to developing policies and systems for supporting the mentally ill than they had hope in influencing the mental health professionals that paying attention to one’s faith is an essential part of their healing and rehabilitation.

One of the church’s challenges is that they need to develop strategies for the long haul. If the church is going to do well with someone with bipolar or schizophrenia, then they need to realize how best to pace the response. I think some churches are willing to throw lots of resources at the person in an effort to try to solve the problem. And if the person is not progressing as they had hoped, then the interest in helping dies off. Hence you have folks with SMI making serial connections with the churches in their area.

Any thoughts on what a helpful church strategy to help someone with SMI be a key member of the community? What kinds of help should the church offer for the long haul?

I suppose we ought to start with making it okay to admit struggles with mental illness…


Filed under church and culture