Our focus is to help you understand what you're facing with a mental illness diagnoses. First of all the stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness can be overwhelming, as it was for Dominique. We all know what generally comes to mind when we hear the term mental illness. It's exactly what he feared. I vividly recall him telling me "I feel like a freak," and "I feel like everybody knows I'm sick." These feelings are the definition of STIGMA! The feeling of shame; that it's a weakness; that it's all your fault. These feelings kept him from complying with his treatment plan. Being betrayed by your mind has to be one of the most awful events any person can experience during their lifetime. It is also very difficult for families and friends to understand and accept. It's even more difficult to know where to look for help, know what to say, or how to encourage and motivate that person to follow their treatment plan. I am not a doctor; I'm just a heartbroken dad who misses his son every day. I can only share with you what I learned after going through this and pray that the outcome is better for you and your loved ones. Don't give up; RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE!
1. Learn all you can about the diagnoses and symptoms. Don't assume you know what to look for; you probably don't. Don't just assume you're dealing with drugs; at first I actually prayed that's all it was. You have to look deeper. Listen to the doctors, then go beyond that to understand as much as you can as fast as you can. Ask questions. Today there are many websites and other resources available to educate yourself. Below we will provide a few.
2. DON'T JUDGE! Don't treat the patient like they are "crazy or stupid; they're not!" They don't deserve it . Often it's hereditary... Most are highly intelligent; their brain simply is not firing properly. If you demonstrate your continued respect for them, they are more likely to participate with the treatment plan.
3. Attend doctors appointments with the patient when possible; don't just drop them off. Even with me sitting right next to him during his appointment, Dominique would not be completely honest with the doctor. He would try to tell the doctors what he thought they wanted to hear. I would often talk with him on the way to doctor's appointments, telling him that "if I notice you not being honest with the doctor I will correct you, but I'm not trying to embarrass you. I am trying to get you the best help possible." I loved him enough to tell the truth in his presence, but had to be careful not to embarrass or humiliate him. That would only push him away from me and the help he needed. Simply put, if you're not honest with the doctor the doctor cannot help.
4. Attend family counseling and/or support groups. Get help for them, yourself and other care givers. The more you talk to others living with the same situation, the more you will learn. You will need to consistently work together with the other care givers. Dominique and I attended weekly family group meetings, together with the patients and their care givers. It was sometimes a challenge to get him there, but I thought we benefited most by talking after the meetings. I know he realized I was trying to help him. I recall him telling me (a couple times after the meetings) that he knew what I was trying to do and thanked me. Remember care givers need support too. The meetings were very open and helpful. You can learn a lot if you participate.
5.Verify the patient is taking their medication. Don't take for granted the patient is taking their medications on their own, or sometimes even if you watch them put it in their mouths. Dominique would often "cheek" his pills. Again you have to love them enough to verify they have really taken the pills, and yes it's hard to do, but necessary. As you hear on every prescription drug commercial today, all come with potentially serious side effects. However it is extremely important for patients to take their medications as prescribed by the doctor, consistently. Not doing so also has side effects, so if the doctor does not know the medication is being taken infrequently, they cannot make the proper adjustments. Figuring out the proper medications is a frustrating process for the patient, you and the doctor, but consistency appears to be the best method. Obviously if you experience signs of serious medical reactions, contact your doctor immediately. Dominique experienced nausea, weight gain and sleeplessness, but we worked through most of it and thought we finally got the medication right. But several months before his passing, he stopped taking it altogether.
6. Be aware of possible of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Persons living with mental illness often "self medicate" with alcohol and/or other drugs. During family group, Dominique and others often said the prescription medications did not work, but instead preferred to self medicate. In Dominique's case he often told the doctor marijauna suppressed the voices in his head. To my surprise the doctors confirmed that, but discouraged its use as they told us once the effects of the marijuana wore off, the symptoms (voices) would only return in greater frequency and intensity than if he had taken his prescription medications.
7. Help maintain daily routines. We found that maintaining daily routines like sleep schedules, hygiene, healthy diet and exercise positively affect the treatment plan. This will likely become less important to those who are diagnosed, but very important to maintain.
8. You alone cannot save them. I often told Dominique that I would fight for him as hard and for as long as I could, but I could not win if he didn't engage in the fight with me. Don't forget that; if they don't work the treatment plan you both lose. Care givers can only help; we cannot do it for them. That's how I lost; I couldn't keep him engaged in his treatment plan. I say I lost, but maybe he didn't. I'll never know in this lifetime.
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