Sam, an 18-year-old, came to see me last year. His parents were with him. Growing up, Sam was an average student with lots of friends. He was a happy child and teenager and was close to his parents.
“In the last six months, everything has changed,” his tearful mother described. Sam was now either angry or sad most of the time and had recently dropped out of high school, right before his graduation. When Sam told his parents he wanted to kill himself, they knew they needed help.
After evaluating Sam, I had the hard job of telling him and his parents I believed he was at the beginning stages of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that impacts peoples’ moods, thinking and behavior. It is a lifelong illness.
Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more serious forms of depression and anxiety disorders fit into the “neurological brain disorders” or “serious mental illness” category. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 89,000 adults, and 28,000 children, in Nevada, have a serious mental health condition. Nationwide, only about 20 to 40 percent of people are able to get the help they need.
Without proper treatment and support, serious mental illnesses often are debilitating. With proper treatment and support, people can lead happy and productive lives. Treatment though, is extremely expensive and hard to access.
When I tell people like Sam and his parents that I think they have a serious mental illness, I am usually just as sad for the parents as I am for the patient. The worry, chaos, financial burden and grieving for ‘what could have been,’ can be unbearable to those who love and care for someone with a serious mental illness. So, the family of the person with the mental illness usually needs a lot of support and guidance too.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness was founded in 1979 and is the largest grassroots organization in the country helping those with mental illness, and their loved ones. There are NAMI support groups in thousands of cities across the country and one is opening in Carson City.
NAMI offers “family to family” classes for friends and family. These classes are lead by volunteers who are mental health professionals or who raised a child with mental illness. In these classes, people are educated about mental illnesses, how to help their loved one take their medications regularly, strategies for handling crisis situations, and, where and how to access treatment and other services for their loved one. Sam’s parents have been attending a NAMI “family to family” group in Reno. They find it tremendously helpful to be surrounded by other people experiencing the same thing they are. And, Sam goes to NAMI support groups where he talks with other people with a mental illness. All of these groups are free.
Anyone interested in attending these new NAMI groups in Carson City can call 775-225-1952 or 775-420-5592 for further information. Drop in are welcome.
Seeking support and guidance is one of the best things you and your family members can do if someone you love has a mental illness.
Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.