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  • Writer's pictureMona Cooley

Stamp out Stigma with Conversations

Following is a description of three families who have stamped out stigma associated with mental illness by sharing their experiences, whether through talking with other families who needed help, speaking to peer support groups about what works to create healthy relationships, or publicly speaking about the difficulties they face. This helped reduce the stigma that can rob individuals and their families of chances to get help.

Family One: The husband is living with bipolar disorder and mental illness. The wife and husband have worked together to figure out how to manage the interruptions mental illness can cause. The focus is on how to be well for the entire family.

Family Two: The daughter, living with schizophrenia, continues to take the steps necessary to lead an independent life. She shares her successes with family peer support groups. Mom and daughter focus on taking care of their health and wellness.

Family Three: The wife was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorders, which explained what was happening with her; however, she did not always take the diagnosis seriously especially when it came to dealing with things concerning her children. Trust and understanding came when her psychiatrist, who fully understood the disorder, listened and talked her through her situation.

How did these three families ride the storm that can flood the family system with constant interruptions and eventually sustain healthy relationships that demand that the family system function regardless of the barrage of stress? The entire family worked together one step at a time through the recovery process and did what was necessary to keep the family unit functioning in a healthy way. How?

1. The family and the individual made an effort to make changes about themselves to achieve harmony, such as recognizing the triggers and learning strategies to manage them.

2. The whole family learned about the specific mental illness so as to understand what was happening with their loved one. For example, they attended peer support groups and/or 10-week sessions Families Helping Families

3. The family and the individual walked side by side while learning to have honest conversations to build on what was working and to change what was not working

4. The family learned how to help themselves stay well while caring for a loved one, such as taking 15 minutes per day to breathe or enjoy a cup of mojo

5. Everyone recognized that it is not a quick fix but a process of learning skills such as communication involving listening and asking questions to get clarity on what the real issue is versus simply reacting

6. They believed that what seemed impossible was possible when they reached out for help. They learned from those who had walked in similar shoes and implemented new strategies

7. The family focused on pulling together and taking charge of their own situation regardless of the stigma attached to the illness

These families decided that Mental Health Problems do not define them. What does is how they worked through the challenges, reached out to learn from others with experience and the family focused on what they could control , which is what they say, do, think and feel.

“Stop the silence and stop concealing the pain. Start having honest conversations- it will help calm the chaos.

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