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Mental illness is common but it is often misunderstood. Many people make generalities about mental illness. They tend to think that all mental illnesses are the same. A particular mental illness may tend to show a certain range of symptoms, not everyone will experience the same symptoms - for example many people with schizophrenia may hear voices, while others may not.  Mental illnesses are not purely 'psychological' and can have many physical features. While a mental illness may affect a person's thinking and emotions, it can also have strong physical effects such as insomnia, weight loss or gain, increase or loss of energy, chest pain and nausea.

When you are told for the first time that you have a mental health diagnosis, it’s hard to understand what that means. Many people instantly think of how mental health issues are portrayed in movies and on television.  Many are scared of how others will now treat them. They struggle with comprehending what this diagnosis means for their day to day life. Will they get better or will it get worse? Is there a way to cure and/or mitigate the diagnosis? Are they now considered “crazy”?

Sometimes it is harder for the individual to share with their family and friends their diagnosis than being told about the diagnosis.  Words matter.  When a loved one tell you about their diagnosis, be mindful of your response and what words you use to respond. It was not easy for them to share this information with you and how you respond is going to set the tone for any future relationship you may have with them.  It is important to remember that your loved one is the same person – they are just dealing with a diagnosis. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this individual is now their diagnosis.  

Always think of the individual first. This will help you minimize making stereotypes and assumptions. Your loved one needs support but sometimes they don’t know what type of support or how much they need. Be understanding while they work out their needs. They need to figure out how to deal with their symptoms and what their goals are in regards to their diagnosis.  

Try and remind them of their strengths and the positives in their life. “You are a sister. You are a teacher. You are a person living with Bipolar Disorder. You are a support for the community via all of your volunteer work.” 

Negative language reinforces discrimination and isolation in society. Try avoid making negative comments even as a joke. Try and be mindful of not using derogatory adjectives such as “crazy,” “bonkers,” and “wacko.” Don’t make the individual a victim of the disease “suffers from mental illness” or “is a victim of mental illness.”

People who live with mental health issues are strong. Their strength may not be overt but it takes strength to get and make it through the day each day when you have to put in extra effort that no one else is aware of. Be supportive in your words and in your actions.

Have questions or concerns about your loved one? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549