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Mental Illness

'Mental illness' is a term used for a group of brain disorders that cause severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating. They result in substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Brain disorders can affect people of any age - children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly - and they can occur in any family. Several million people in the U.S. suffer from a serious, long-term brain disorder. The cost to society is high, due to lost productivity and treatment expense.  People with mental illness occupy more hospital beds than people with any other illness.

Those with mental illnesses are usually of normal intelligence, although they may have difficulty performing at a normal level due to their illness.

There are over 12,000 adults with serious and persistent mental illness in Indiana.  Of these, 70% are not in treatment, 85% are unemployed, and 40% are homeless or paying more than 60% of their monthly income for housing.  While our mental health system has emerged from the dark ages of institutional warehousing of the mentally ill, much still must be done to promote adequate, appropriate and accessible services and housing for persons with no-fault neurobiological brain diseases.  NAMI Southern Indiana works actively with legislators, area board and community support systems to promote high quality care.

How could this be happening?

The feelings, reactions, and responses to a loved one's mental illness vary from family to family and individual to individual, and may encompass -- among others -- guilt, anger, fear, fatigue, or denial. Families may feel:

  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Distancing or denial: whatever it is that's happening, it can't be happening to me and my relative.
  • Extreme fatigue, possibly accompanied by feelings that death would be better than this.
  • Guilt based on a very-much-alive stereotype that the parents are 'to blame.'
  • Fear for the safety of one's relative, the family, and society.
  • Outrage over the injustice of such a horrendous occurrence in one's own relative and one's family.
  • Anger over the lack of adequate services and facilities for proper treatment.
  • Anger at some mental health professionals in particular, over the fact that parents, close relatives, or the patient are rarely listened to.
  • Concern for the reactions of friends, relatives, and colleagues outside the immediate family circle.
  • Exhaustion from being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, without an end in sight.
  • Exhaustion from working harder and urging the sick relative to work harder because 'there is no reason why they can't get better, or function better.'
  • Desire to escape the nightmare, including thoughts of relocation to another part of the country or world.

The previously described feelings, reactions, and responses are by no means inclusive, nor are they necessarily shared by each individual, but they do suggest the range of concerns and discriminations families must deal with, in addition to coping with a family member who has manifested one of the most difficult and severe diseases known today.

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