Brittany’s 7 Tips for Coping with Parent’s Diagnosis

This blog is written for the adolescents and young adults that have learned about their parent(s) mental illness diagnosis.

I am a child of a parent who has been diagnosed with depression during my late childhood. My adolescent and young adult years were the most difficult for me in terms of understanding depression & watching the depressive symptoms negatively impact my family. I had no guide to help me cope or manage my own emotions that I had towards my parent’s depressive symptoms.

These tips that I am sharing with you are parts of the road-map that I constructed for myself. You may find some of these tips unhelpful for you, depending on the severity or type of your parent’s mental illness. If so, please use these tips in a way that can assist you in finding your own ways of coping.

1.Become Knowledgeable: This tip is very important. The more (correct) knowledge you have about your parent’s diagnosis, the more likely you will be able to see your parent as the person they are, not as the symptoms. For example, my parent was and still is loving and supportive. However, when the depressive episodes take hold, the circulating negative thoughts temporarily prevent my parent from remaining in the moment with her family.

2. Find someone to talk to: Having a person you feel safe and comfortable talking with can be very helpful. This person can be either a therapist/counselor, a close relative, friend, or anyone else that will provide you with a safe place for you to express your emotions and share any challenges you’re experiencing. For me, I found a therapist and very close friends the most comforting because I, and my parent, wasn’t being judged or criticized. Who ever is this person for you, make sure they really listen to you and acknowledge your emotions and experiences.

3. Be kind to yourself and your parent: When I mention being kind to yourself, I mean giving yourself the allowance to feel how ever you feel each day. There were days when I was angry with how my parent’s depressive symptoms were impacting my family. I was sad some days because how I saw the depressive symptoms prevented my parent from getting out of bed some days. I was frustrated sometimes, too. I believe my ability to identify how I felt during these difficult years, and even today, have assisted me in increasing my understanding and compassion for my parent and their experiences. Once you are able to be kind to yourself, the kindness can expand to your parent.

4. Positively Interact with Your Parent: With depression, there may be times where the simplest tasks may be the most difficult, such as getting out of bed or cooking. I suggest modifying such activities so that you can do them with your parent. When I knew my parent didn’t want to cook because they lost their appetite, I suggested helping. Or even encouraging a game of scrabble. Playing any game or sharing a hobby that you and your parent can do together can remind the parent of the activities they enjoy when they are not in a depressed state. Lastly, if your parent doesn’t agree to any of your suggestions, use this time to focus on you. Doing a task that you enjoy can assist you in regulating your emotions and manage stress.

5. Start a Bucket List Together: This activity goes with #4. By starting a bucket list with your parent (when they are not in a depressed episode), can act as a verbal and written contract between the two of you. For instance, writing items on the list that are healthy and active, like simply walking around the block in your neighborhood or traveling to the beach, can (1) be a bonding experience for you two, (2) assists in getting both your parent and yourself active and moving, and (3) can create positive and rewarding experiences for all involved. Collaborating in the creation of this list can instill hope for your parent and your family.

6. Support for Siblings: When my parent experienced depressive episodes or was having a bad day, I stepped-up my duties as an older sister to include helping with homework, laundry, cooking and providing emotional support when it was needed. These tasks, for me at least, fit well with my role in the family as a mediator. When I noticed my sibling was having a difficult time, I tried my best to be a supportive. If it is too emotionally difficult or you are not at an age where this is possible,  I suggest assisting them in finding someone they feel they can talk to (as suggested in tip #2).

7. Know & Believe that RECOVERY is possible: This tip is as simple as that.
Below, are resources that can assist you in collecting information, enhancing your knowledge about mental health and mental illness, and provide you with the reassurance that you, and your family, are not alone.

Helpful Resources:

California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies: http://www.ccmha.org

Children of Parent with Mental Illness: http://www.copmi.net.au –> Even though this organization is based in Australia, there is lots of helpful information for children of parents with mental illness. There are resources for children, young adults, & parents.

Depression Facts: http://www.aboutdepressionfacts.com

Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement: http://www.eachmindmatters.org

Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel: http://www.healthyplace.com

Mental Health America: Depression: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org –> Can provide information about mental illness as well as family support at chapters throughout the country

” An Untimely Chaotic Consistency”

I tweeted on July 8th: “The discussions that are most difficult to start, are the most important conversations!”. I then included these: #mentalhealth, #suicide, #domesticviolence, and #rape.

When I wrote this tweet, I was reflecting on all i have heard and all the various emotions I have felt these past months. I learned of my relative’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which has been chipping away at my heart. Also, I heard details about someone’s unimaginable experience that has propelled me into the depths of my fears. I have felt anger, compassion, fear, happiness, madness, and relief. The only way I know how to describe my life this month is “an untimely chaotic consistency”. Yes, that phrase doesn’t make much sense. However, on the other hand, it sort of does.

As a bystander to what I have learned, I attempt to make sense of it all. I attempt to understand how cancer cells can simultaneously deteriorate a family’s center and question a body’s ability to function. I attempt to question and understand the possible limitations of an individual’s strength. Although I am not the one with the cancer diagnosis and I am not the person that has experienced the greatest degree of sexual assault, I am the one that is indirectly impacted from such experiences. These two individuals are people I thought were untouchable.


Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. What if, these two individuals are touchable in the physical sense, while their souls are impenetrable? Their souls remain intact within the darkness and chaos.

The souls of these individuals are what remain after damage has been done. The soul of my relative is allowing them to continue receiving chemotherapy treatments. the other person’s soul is sustaining their unweathering strength as they move forward in retrieving the power that was taken from them against their will.


This month has been tough. Now that I think about it, the coming months will be the most challenging for these two individuals personally, and for myself indirectly as I witness their fight against the odds. These will be the most emotionally and mentally challenging months ahead. Fortunately, these two individuals will not go through their path towards recovery alone.

* This blog was written for those that have been impacted by a cancer diagnosis  & have either experienced or know someone that has been raped.

Resources:

If you have been raped, please contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) at 1800-656-HOPE. Visit RAINN.org.
Peace Over Violence: http://peaceoverviolence.org/emergency/sexual-assault-rape.
Safe Horizon: http://www.safehorizon.org.
Safe Horizon’s Rape, Sexual Assault & Incest Hotline at 212-227-3000 or help@safehorizon.org (please allow 72 hrs for response)
“Rape Is” Support Center: http:www.rapeis.org/support.html
Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (24 hour): 1-800-832-1901
National Child Abuse Hotline (24 hour): 1-800-422-4453

In an alternate universe…

As I brain stormed ideas for this blog entry, a Twilight Zone episode continued to consume my thoughts:

        A woman wakes up in the hospital with her face bandaged. The nurse (whose face you don’t see) unwraps the bandages and screams. The nurse calls the doctor into the patient’s room. The doctor (whose face the audience also doesn’t see) states that the woman can not be healed or fixed. Next, the camera shows the audience the woman’s face. She is beautiful with flawless skin and a glowing complexion. The doctor then tells the nurse to call Them to pick p athe patient und take her away. After commercial break, the door to the patient’s hospital room opens and a man (that looks like Barbie’s Ken) walks into the room. He tells the woman patient, “Hello. I am bringing you to a land where people like us can be together and live in peace”. The patient willingly goes with this stranger without question. The camera then shows the audience the doctor’s and nurses’ faces: pig-like with noses that look like snouts. Although this Twilight Zone episode addresses the subjectivity of beauty and the ways in which society upholds the criteria for what is perceived as beautiful or not, this episode can relate to how mental illness is currently understood and perceived.

What if in an alternate universe, having a mental illness diagnosis was seen as a glamorous entity. In this alternate universe, people rush to psychiatrists, therapists, and clinics to be assessed for a mental illness. Having a mental illness diagnosis of depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia (to name a few) is normalized and accepted as a label that belongs to the majority. The individuals without a mental illness diagnosis are perceived as marginalized, lacking super-human capabilities, or as abnormal.

Would stigma still exist in this alternate universe? I believe yes, but in a different way than stigma exists in our society. Stigma would be internalized by those without a diagnosis, instead of by those who have one.

Would having a diagnosis provide the individual with access to special or desired resources? Probably so. Although in our current society, resources are provided to people with a mental illness diagnosis, many factors continue to interfere with the individual’s ability to actually have access to them. Some factors, to name a few, are healthcare (insurance or lack thereof), transportation, locations where services are provided, price & quality of such services, and shame/embarrassment that is experienced by many when acknowledging to family and friends that they have been diagnosed or exhibit the symptoms that warrant a diagnosis.

Would people be accused of ‘faking’ symptoms or behaviors in order to receive such a diagnosis in this alternate universe? Probably so. In any society where there is a created stratification based upon any innate (physical, biological) or socially constructed characteristics (racial, socioeconomic, gender, occupational), accusations of fraud will more than likely exist.

Even though our current society has a large prevalence of mental illness, individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are portrayed by the media (and from society’s choice in terminology) as ‘crazy’ or ‘deviant’. But in actuality, many are misunderstood and are at times, seen as having a characteristic fault.

We do not live in the alternate universe that I have described above. No, we do not. However, we can live in a society where we do not place judgement on others when life becomes difficult. We can change our current society into one that encourages sharing our struggles and challenges in order to strengthen each one of us. We can, together.

 

Infographic of Mental Illness Facts

Infographic of Mental Illness Facts

This is a wonderful infographic representing the prevalence of depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia throughout the United States. Mental Ilnness affects people of all ages and all cultural backgrounds.

1 in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness
1 in 4 families have a relative that has a mental illness

We are all in some way impacted by mental illness.

Stand together to decrease stigma.

If you’d like to read more regarding USC’s MSW program &/or about the infographic presented above, please visit this link:  http://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/facing-mental-illness-infographic/