Help is a Phone Call Away…or is it?

When dealing with mental illness crisis, it is a comfort to know that help is a phone call away…or is it? Are they responsive to the help you need? I know the frustration of utilizing various help lines including 911 only to be disappointed with the help they have to offer. Is my expectation too high or are their resources too limited? Perhaps it is a bit of both. Are they still invaluable resources? Yes. They each serve a purpose, provide assistance and can save lives.

Let’s backtrack a minute. Let me give you a recent example. I have a 17 year old son who has bipolar disorder and is medicated and monitored regularly by a psychiatrist. Against all odds, his disorder reared its ugly head temporarily overtaking parts of his body or at the least his mind. In short, he was inconsolable, unpredictable and increasingly aggressive. First attempt at hospitalization was denied-not bad enough, second attempt, call 911- a home visit by the police but ultimately not their problem (a referral was made to the IMPACT team who evidently do not work on statutory holidays). Third attempt, four days later, a phone call to a help line that wasn’t helpful at all.   I ended up taking matters into my own hands, and hospitalization followed.  I know myself and my child and what was needed at that time. Sometimes we need to follow our gut and not take no for an answer. It can be really hard to keep your cool when you feel frantic and your child certainly is. It is important to stay composed in order to take charge, take action and be your child’s best advocate. When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So what happened next? My son was admitted to the General Hospital and 12 hours later transferred to the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Program (CAIP) a children’s psych ward.

Mentally Ill & in Good Mental Health

Mentally ill and in good mental health may sound like an oxymoron, but its not. Think about it, just as it’s possible to have poor mental health but no mental illness, it’s entirely possible to have good mental health even with a diagnosis of mental illness. Mental health exists on a continuum. Everyone has good and bad days. What’s important is how we handle them.

Good mental health applies to us all. It is about our ability to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally and relationally no matter what kind of day we are having. It’s about managing our daily stressors and keeping them in perspective. Mental illness on the other hand affects a fraction of the population- stats reveal one in five people. There are many different illnesses, and they have different symptoms that impact people’s lives in different ways. For example, when you have met one person with bipolar disorder you have met one person with bipolar disorder.

The practice of good mental health requires us all to tend to our changing needs. This will call for different actions at different times. Perhaps going for a run or listening to your favourite music playlist or both, will provide a mood boost. Other actions may include, retreating from or engaging with others, taking medication regularly if that is what is required, and not to mention taking care of the basics like diet, sleep and exercise.

So, no matter where you are on the spectrum of mental health, know you are not alone. There is so much that can be done to optimize your well being. Know your limits and live within them.

The Gifts of Mental Illness

The gifts of mental illness are perhaps a concept we don’t often- if at all- consider. How could something good come out of being diagnosed with a mental illness? At the time of diagnosis, shock is a common response while for others it may be relief or some other emotion. Either way, there begins one’s opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. It’s not about what happens to us in life, rather how we respond to life’s challenges. Remember, you are so much more than your label. You are still the person you have always been, challenges or not. Its important to eventually move away from disempowering questions like why me; to more empowering questions like what now? What can I control? How can I move forward despite my challenges? Who can I call on? and most importantly, how can I help others?

Here begins the heart work of mining for gems. It has been said, the longest journey in life is from your head to your heart. Once past the initial shock of diagnosis, one can work on connecting head information to heart emotions which effects change. With an honest self-assessment, and willingness to see things differently the gifts of mental illness emerge. Perhaps its crediting yourself with self-awareness and the ability to learn new things about yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t have so early on in life, perhaps its your new-found ability to relate and empathize with others, or to take a more non-judgmental stance because you never know what’s behind someone’s bad day or mood. What about the opportunity you give others everyday to be more compassionate? More than this, how can you express yourself? Through words? Art? Music? It has been said that all the ‘greats’ have had a streak of madness that made them who they are. So what about you? How has your illness gifted you?