Mental Health Crisis
By Name Withheld
Twelve years ago I found myself thrust into a family mental health crisis that I could have never imagined. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be walking through such a terrifying nightmare. The crisis came out of nowhere and I was completely unprepared for how to deal with it. I had never been exposed to the kind of mental health issues I was facing and certainly never read about them in any of the books I had read over the years. What I learned as I walked through this nightmare came through my own self-education, trial and error, and seeking out professionals. Sadly, what I discovered was how insufficient the mental health care is in this country and how few excellent resources there are for the mental health sufferer and his or her family. That’s all the more why it’s so important to be your own advocate. Thankfully, we now have the internet at our fingertips. I found much of my most helpful information and networking there.
It is my hope that some of the things I’ve learned in walking through this crisis will help you. You are not alone.
- Put together a resource binder or notebook where you keep everything you need —everything. To have it all in one place is important, so you can readily grab it when you need it.
- Assemble a team of professionals (psychiatrist, counselor, medical doctor, crisis line, pharmacist, etc.) Include all of these numbers on a one-page list in the front of your notebook where you can easily find it:
- Police Department (have a list of family car license plates)
- Emergency Numbers (nearest hospital and/or mental health facility)
- 24-Crisis Line
- Doctors and professionals you are working with
- Pharmacy Numbers/Medication lists with dosages, refills, etc.
- Friends & Family Members
- Any medical records you need (have those already gathered)
- Keep a journal of daily symptoms, behaviors, side effects, dosages, meds, anything that will be helpful when talking to professionals—and date it. Include this as a section in your binder/notebook. This will also alert you to red flags, unhealthy patterns developing, setbacks, etc.
- Find a competent counselor/therapist/psychiatrist for your loved one who he/she can see regularly (weekly for sure). It needs to be someone skilled in your loved one’s mental health issues and very knowledgeable with psychotic meds. Also, someone who is willing to take the time you need and is available in times of crisis. All of these questions can be asked in the search process. (Note: a psychologist cannot prescribe medications, only a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse can, so you want to make sure you find the right professional for your needs.)
- Make a list of thorough questions for every single medical visit and summarize visits later once you’ve been able to digest everything. You need to go into the appointments prepared.
- With counseling/psychiatrist appointments, ask if you can either call or meet with a loved one’s professional alone ahead of time to give them the full picture, especially so as not to upset the patient during the appointment. (Most times the patient himself is not able to accurately explain what’s going on. It can only prolong necessary and speedy treatment if the counselor/psychiatrist doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation.)
- Press for a crisis plan (what do you do in case of an emergency, who do you call on weekends, after hours, where do you go, legal permission necessary for someone over age, what if the person is suicidal?, etc.) Ask professionals you are working with how you can contact them in-between appointments when things happen and what is the best and fastest way to do that.
- Find a 24/hour crisis line that you can trust. Try to anticipate stressors ahead of time and prepare for them the best you can.
- Once you’re done dealing with the crisis and things are stable, work together with the medical team for a “preventative” plan as best you can. Talk about what to do if it happens again. Ask how to be watching for red flags. Accept that there will be setbacks. (Most people who have had a major mental health episode will likely have another one.) However, I have found by being better prepared for it—knowing what to expect, it can be less traumatic (although all major mental health episodes are traumatic)—for all involved, although still very challenging.
- Network with as many people and professionals as you can. Press professionals regularly and stay in their face. (I know this is very hard.)
- Educate yourself on your loved one’s mental health issues. Become the expert of the disease a loved one is suffering from and all the meds the loved one is on. Knowledge is power and keeps you from feeling so helpless. It will also prepare you to ask the right questions from the professionals you are working with and what to expect with your loved one’s behavior, med side effects, etc.
- Take advantage of the resources on the NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) site. This is an excellent organization with all kinds of educational, individual, and family resources. Additionally, they provide support groups for family members and the person struggling with mental illness. You can find out where the local chapter is in your area on the site and get personal help.
- Subscribe to the e-newsletter “Living with Depression”. Another great resource with help for mental health issues. (It addresses more than just depression.)
- In the middle of the crisis, don’t worry about diagnosis, etc.; the immediate treatment is what’s most important.
- Seek out some counseling/support for yourself. This is too big to navigate alone. Mental health issues affect everyone, especially the caregiver! At the time of crisis, I went in weekly, sometimes two or three times a week, to just cope, ask what to do, etc., and for my own emotional stability.
- Take time out personally to have fun, to give yourself a break from the pressure, to take mini-vacations from it. Do something with friends, go out to eat, go to a movie, go for a walk, etc. Try to regain some degree of normalcy.
- Give yourself permission to process through your own grief and loss. The grief will hit at the most unexpected moments. Have a good cry often; it will give you an emotional release that’s necessary.
- Realize that healing will take time–the brain will need time to mend and heal after a major psychotic or depressive episode. (I found for my loved ones, it was a good year. While this can sound discouraging, it helps to be able to prepare yourself emotionally for the slow nature of healing from many mental health episodes.)
- Sit family members down to explain what is happening and touch base with each other regularly to process emotions, fears, etc. Being around a person struggling with mental illness can be very scary for everyone. Especially, it is important to emphasize that the behaviors of the loved one are the result of the illness; it is not reflective of the person they love. It’s important to separate the two, especially for children and teenagers.
- Make plans loosely, realizing that on any given day everything can change in a moment.
- Celebrate the small victories and improvements along the way. Point these out and encourage the person with these as well. Everyone in the family needs to do this for their own mental health and to hold on to hope.
- Ask others to hold you up in prayer and assemble a practical support system for yourself (friends and family members—people you can trust and talk to freely). Let them minister to you during this time. You will need it. (People brought meals, sent cards, took me out for a break, made Christmas cookies, checked in regularly, prayed, etc.)
- Hang on to hope and trust that God will give you wisdom and hold you up when you feel like you can’t take another step. “Have no fear of sudden disaster…for the Lord will be your confidence” (Prov. 3:25-26).
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