Mental Illness affects the individual and it affects  
 the family, friends, and whole communities.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in 5 adults have some sort of mental health condition.  1 in 20 has a serious mental illness.

Recently, I read an article about help for family members, and the comments were on the whole, disturbing.  Most of the comments seemed to deny that family members would need help coping with the mental illness in the family and further stated that by actually giving tips and resources for the family, it is further stigmatizing the individual with the mental illness.  I’m not sure where the respondents were coming from.

Can’t we all get along?..

It is not “one or the other”, this is a “both, and”.

Girl sitting on colorful flagstones. She turned her back which causes a feeling of loneliness.

Yes.  The individual suffering with mental illness needs to receive treatment and support.  They also need empathy, compassion, and education about their illness.  And, there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding regarding mental illness.  The stigma of mental illness is real and can hinder people from seeking treatment.  1 in 5 adults has a mental illness in any given year.  1 in 20 adults has a serious mental illness in any given year, in the USA.  (These statistics come from this link: Mental Health Statistics)


Woman with hand on her head as she gazes in thought. Head ache? Depression? Loneliness? Versatile image.


Yes.  Mental illness not only affects the individual, but it affects, family members, partners, friends, and whole communities.  And caregivers need to receive support, compassion, and understanding as well.
Caregivers themselves should seek treatment if the behaviors are beginning to affect their emotional, physical health. Sometimes, family member’s can become the target of abusive behavior.  It is healthy to have boundaries in every relationship, including your relationship with the person suffering from mental illness.

One small step to health reduce stigma:
Begin to view the Person as separate from the Illness.

One way to begin to reduce stigma is to begin to separate the person from the diagnosis.  The person isn’t the diagnosis,  this is an individual experiencing symptoms of mental illness.  A diagnosis is really a cluster of symptoms, classified and categorized by mental health professionals (The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental illness.) Mental illnesses were classified and categorized for the purpose of diagnosis, treatment, and research.

Even if a person has the same diagnosis as another, no one size fits all in terms of intensity, time, and degree of the particular symptoms.   When I see a client with a mental health diagnosis.  In order to assess, diagnosis, and evaluate an individual, not only would I look at the symptoms, I usually think of a pie graph where you start to put the pieces together which include:  genetics, environment, lifestyle, traumatic events, physical health conditions, individual temperament, and other biochemical processes as well as basic brain structure.  Human beings are complex, interesting, multi-dimensional, wonderful beings who are more than their illness.

Here’s some good news that not everyone is aware of:  

Recovery is possible.

Big happy family taking selfie with tablet computer while having refreshing drinks in outdoor cafe on tropical resort

In fact, most people will get better with treatment.  Recovery and Treatment is often a process over time.  SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Initiative, developed a working definition of Recovery:

 A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. Through the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, SAMHSA has delineated four major dimensions that support a life in recovery: Health Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms—for example, abstaining from use of alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-prescribed medications if one has an addiction problem— and for everyone in recovery, making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being. Home A stable and safe place to live Purpose Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family care-taking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society Community Relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

There are many challenges facing the mental healthcare system.  This being said, I don’t believe it is enough to say systems are broken and not at least attempt to do something to fix them or to create a new system that would address some of the challenges.  One way is to reduce stigma.  Another is to have better policies and legislation.  We can also promote acceptance, education, compassion, and challenge the existing stereotypes.

To your good health,                                                                                                                                                                                           Chris


Christine Matteson, BC-DMT, LCAT, LMHC  is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice with over 20 years of experience. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and issues related to grief/loss and managing stress. Looking to schedule a session?

*Learn more about the stigma of mental illness, click here.