Mental illness stigma silences many spouses
Q. Numerous sports stars and celebrities have recently disclosed that they have anxiety, depression, and/or bipolar disorder. These people have amazing strength and courage.
However, countless others live in secrecy, refusing to disclose their illness to even close friends or family members. Spouses of people with mental illness must maintain this secrecy, for fear of repercussions.
Even with medication, proper diet, exercise, etc., people with mental illness can relapse. During relapses, spouses are lied to, ignored, isolated, yelled at, and blamed for things they didn’t do.
This is verbal, mental, and emotional abuse. Countless marriages do not survive.
Not much is written about the spouses who do hang in there in sickness and in health.
I know many, many spouses will see themselves in this letter; please give us some words of encouragement.
Lonely and Alone
A. I find your letter heartbreaking, and I want you to know that I (and many others) who have mental illness in our families identify with your challenges.
Increasingly, people who have mental illness are bravely coming forward to help lift the veil of shame and taboo surrounding brain disorders. Let us remember that a few decades ago, other illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy were similarly stigmatized.
And now you are bravely helping to destroy the stigma and silence surrounding the burden on spouses and family members. Thank you.
Here are your words of encouragement. Tape this to your bathroom mirror, and don’t ever forget it: You are not alone.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.org) has many programs and resources designed to help family members understand and assist in treatment for their loved ones’ mental illness. And now NAMI has a program designed specifically to focus on you.
This is from the NAMI website: “NAMI Family-to-Family is a free, 12-session educational program for family, significant others and friends of people living with mental illness. It is a designated evidence-based program. Research shows that the program significantly improves the coping and problem-solving abilities of the people closest to an individual living with a mental health condition.
“NAMI Family-to-Family is taught by NAMI-trained family members who have been there, and includes presentations, discussion and interactive exercises.”
Until this course is offered online and available to all, you will have to find your local NAMI affiliate. Using their searchable database, I saw many “friends and family” support groups in my local area. I know that you could benefit from a support group. And because you are both experienced and insightful, you could also help others.
Q. Two years ago, my husband returned to college to complete his bachelor’s degree as an adult.
Our family has sacrificed a lot while he’s pursuing something he loves and we (two elementary-school-aged boys and I) are VERY proud of everything he/we have accomplished these last two years.
It’s been a real family effort to juggle jobs, home, full-time school, etc.
As his graduation date approaches, we want to celebrate this achievement and want to host some type of party.
I’m wondering if you have any insight on what an adult’s graduation party might look like. For a typical 22-year-old, it’s just a party with gifts to send them off into adulthood.
How about for a 39-year-old man who has been in the workforce then made a bold decision to restart his life? It feels like we should do more!
A. I share your family’s happiness at this accomplishment. Way to go, Dad!
Definitely celebrate this with your friends, family, and his fellow graduates.
It occurs to me that in lieu of other gifts, you and your family could host a book drive for your local school or library.
You could also look into the concept of “LoanGifting,” which is where a graduate invites people to help pay off school debt. After fees (research this carefully), the gift goes directly to pay off school loans.
Q. You gave good advice to “Frazzled Shopper,” the mom who struggled to shop with her kids.
As someone who’s been in the trenches with three kids, I have an extra bit of counsel to offer. While driving to the store, tell the kids what behavior is expected of them: No screaming. No wandering. If they ask for something and you say no, they may not ask again. If they do all this, they get to pick out a treat at the checkout. It works like a charm.
A. Wonderful. You deserve a treat at checkout, too!