I had the opportunity to see the touring company of the Broadway musical Next to Normal last weekend. Next to Normal is about a family struggling with mental illness; the Mother has a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder with delusional episodes. While only one family member has been officially diagnosed, the musical carefully and sensitively portrays how mental illness can affect a whole family, not just the person with the diagnosis. People living with mental illness do not live in a vacuum. Each one of them has family who are also living with the effects of mental illness – the concern, the anger, the isolation, the pain – all while searching for solutions which may or may not yet exist. All of these experiences can be difficult to handle alone and support from others who understand may bring some relief.
Here are 3 ways you can break the isolation of the effects of mental illness and gain support from others who understand:
1. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) provides education about mental illness for individuals and families. They also organize community events to help lesson the unfair stigma associated with mental illness like the NAMI walk which is September 24, 2011 in Minneapolis.
2. Join, or start a mental health/mental illness group in your community based on the model of the mental health/mental illness ministry at St Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis. They offer speakers, support and advocacy opportunities for people who are experiencing mental illness and for those who love them.
3. Ask the mental health provider for your family member if they know of support groups for siblings, parents, or children of people experiencing mental illness. If they don’t know of any, and they have knowledge of the effects of mental illness on family members, ask if they might be willing to facilitate one.