Mental health, and the absence of mental health, are largely misunderstood by the general public. In that mental health concerns, including the rapidly increasing rate of age related dementia, are common within our society, it is time for people to come to terms with the variety of signs and symptoms of cognitive crises. There are many types of psychological problems, ranging from “garden variety” anxiety, phobias, and depression to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychopathy. In addition, there are psychological components related to traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, and several types of dementia, in addition to Alzheimer’s Disease. As such, there is no “one size fits all” treatment for mental illness and cognitive impairment and it can be frustrating to those who are close to people who suffer from these issues. Due to an overall absence of understanding of psychology, many laypersons are judgmental when it comes to dealing with crisis after crisis involving their loved one(s). I have lost track of the number of times I have heard well meaning family and friends say things like, “Wow! Hilda sure acts crazy these days!”; or “Why doesn’t Leroy check himself into a hospital if he’s that out of touch with reality?”; or “I’m not going to invite Aunt Agatha to any more family get togethers because she keeps removing her blouse in front of my kids.” Well, ladies and gentlemen who are reading this post, have you ever considered that the person with the mental illness or dementia cannot control his/her behavior? Have you ever considered that your friend might have trouble just getting through his daily routine, to the point he just can’t pick up the phone and cancel your important plans? Have you ever, once, considered that no one, absolutely no one, wants to suffer from a debilitating psychological problem and further, they aren’t trying to bother or inconvenience you? Have you ever considered how it must feel to live life the way they do? Unless one has truly experienced mental illness, a psychological disorder, or other cognitive impairment, it is impossible to know, with certainty, how it impacts one’s daily life. The human brain is an amazing thing, however, when it is broken, due to some type of impairment, it has the potential of causing tremendous harm to the person, as well as those who care about him or her. By definition, people with mental illness, psychological problems, and cognitive impairment are not “normal,” therefore, no one should expect them to “just act like a normal person.” It can’t be done! Thus, the next time those of us who possess all of our mental faculties dare to judge the unusual behavior of someone who suffers from a psychological impairment, instead of rushing to criticize this person, lend a helping hand. Your helping hand may make a difference in someone’s life.
As a psychologist, Melissa is acutely aware of mental health issues. However, in the last 10 or so years, the personal nature of her, and my, observations of mental health issues has grown, sadly, exponentially. This has included dementia related health issues of family and friends, as well as other mental health problems of family and friends. In these experiences, one factor at play is that the person who has the mental health deficiency is operating in his or her own world where things are “normal” to that person. They may be suffering in many ways, aware of some of their limitations or problems, but this is their world. The rest of us are just observers of that world. And, while many well meaning comments are made, like, “Hilda should go get treatment…” this is inadequate. Hilda doesn’t know she needs treatment. Or, Hilda doesn’t know how to get treatment. Or, perhaps the worse, Hilda is afraid to seek treatment out of a realization that what she will learn in doing so is very bad. Further, those who do get treatment, or are at least tested, are often prescribed medications which have significant side effects – horrible ones. The kind of side effects which make one wonder if the cure is not worse than the disease, at least in some ways. I have a cousin who is a couple of years older than me. We are not close, but in the final year of her mother’s life, my mother’s sister, this cousin’s mental frailties became blatantly obvious to many of us who were trying to help her ailing mother. Over and over, however, family and friends involved in my aunt’s care became increasingly frustrated that “cousin Jane” not only could not help with her own mother, but she was obviously in serious need of help herself. The stress of her mother’s condition worsened “Jane’s” condition. Melissa and I expended considerable effort to encourage those who were in a position to help Jane to help her. The reaction was often, “we tried, but she won’t let us.” “She refuses to go to the doctor” was said many times. When life gets to this point, it is terribly difficult for some people to help, and resources can be limited. Knowing where to get help is difficult too (start with asking one’s own doctor or lawyer for advice). But, the thing to keep in mind is that Jane, or Tom/Dick/Harry, don’t want to be mentally ill or have dementia. They just don’t have the ability to do anything about it. They cannot be expected to help themselves. Instead, they need help from those of us whose minds are not impaired. Compassion and understanding of this fundamental point go a long way!