Resources for Help with Mental Illness

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by Paul

This essay is part of our Peculiar Minds series.

Sad statue in Reykjavik

A Personal Perspective

I have a number of family members who deal with mental illness, including clinical depression, OCD, ADD, PDD-NOS, substance abuse and schizoaffective disorder.  (I note here that the label of a diagnosis means little in the grand scheme of things; the key is finding treatment that works.) I’ve also written here at Real Intent a bit about my own struggle with depression.

When faced with mental illness – a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning – we are often confused and alone.  Whether the illness is our own or in someone we love, we do not instinctively know how to get help.

Yet statistics tell us one in four Americans are touched by mental illness in their own lives or in the life of a love one.  If you are like me, when you face it you often do not know what you are seeing, and so it’s difficult to know where to turn for help.

Advocacy and Support

Before talking about resources, I will mention that often those who need mental health services do not recognize it.  A key feature of mental illness is lack of insight about the disease.  Very often the loved one of someone who suffers from mental illness must be an advocate to ensure that the consumer receives proper care.  It’s particularly challenging if the sufferer does not recognize the need for care, of course, and I’ll recommend some help for that, too, at the end of the post.

It’s important to note that advocacy is not the same as enabling.  In the case of the illness of addiction, one often hears of the need to “let go and let God,” and that is a good approach for loved ones.  The addict often needs to feel the full weight of the consequences of his or her choices before hitting bottom and seeking treatment.

That is not the case with other mental illness, however.  Many who deal with mental illness will never have the insight that they are ill, and therefore never seek treatment that could help them improve the quality of their lives.  The advocacy of family members can help sufferers to find appropriate treatment, helping them to live more independent and happy lives.

Another complication is the age at which consumers of mental health services get to make their own choices in treatment.  In many states, it is earlier than age 18, and unless the consumer signs an agreement, a family member may not have access to treatment or diagnosis details.

In this post, I’ll outline my thoughts about some resources available to help non-addicts.

Salt Lake City Temple, BlizzardBishops

In the church, we often turn to our ecclesiastical leaders for support first.  It’s a common instinct, and parishioners of other denominations often turn to clergy as well, because our religious leaders are generally compassionate and trustworthy.  Unfortunately, unless they also have personal experience with mental illness or specific training, they probably won’t be the only resource for us.

I don’t mean to suggest we shouldn’t counsel with the bishop.  It’s almost never a bad idea to get our bishop’s input.  But we should see him for what he is: a lay minister, capable of receiving inspiration within his stewardship, providing needed counsel and comfort, and otherwise (unless he happens also to be a mental health professional) no more or less knowledgeable about mental health than the next guy.

Bishops do have resources at their disposal, however.  They have access (in many areas, at least) to LDS Family Services.  Often even if a ward member does not have local access to LDSFS counselors, a bishop may call for advice about how to handle a certain situation.  In my area, LDSFS may also recommend other therapists in the area who are qualified to help and will respect LDS values.

But bishops have limitations, too.  Like the rest of us, they are subject to similar popular but false ideas about mental illness just as the population in general is.  They may suggest a person facing depression “just needs to get out more,” or “lighten up,” or “fast and pray more.”  They may minimize or exaggerate the risks associated with other mental illness, not because they are not wise or inspired, but because they simply aren’t informed.  Bishops have a lot to worry about, and becoming educated about mental illness may not be high on their priority lists.

LDS Family Services

In certain areas of the church there are LDS Family Services Centers where members can receive counseling services.  Therapists typically hold Master’s degrees, and my experience in my area is that insurance carriers do not participate with LDSFS, so patrons must pay out of pocket.  LDSFS therapists generally do not focus on long-term treatment models, but refer those cases outside their agency and focus on matters that can work with a 9-12 session treatment plan.  According to LDSFS’s website, certain services still require a bishop’s recommendation.

The LDSFS therapists I have known are well-trained at accredited institutions and generally have experience outside LDSFS as well.  One can expect LDS values to be safe in the LDSFS counseling environment, but that fact alone may not make it the best fit for a client.

The LDSFS website links to this article, which includes excellent advice on selecting a therapist.

Derby High SchoolSchools

If the sufferer is in school, the school may also have resources that can help.  Public schools often have social workers who can either provide counseling or direct families to local resources.  When we discovered a problem with one of our children, the school counselor was the first person we called, and she helped us find a local resource where we got specific and competent help.  In our area, the school counselors have exceptionally high case loads, so getting the attention of the counselor can be a challenge, so a parent needs to advocate strongly for his/her child.

Most colleges and universities offer on-campus counseling for full time students as well.  This is an important resource because often mental illness first presents itself in the college years.  I have had children who have taken advantage of those resources and found them to be helpful.

Insurance

While it is not always advisable to discuss details of one’s mental health recovery plan with employers, insurance provided through employment can be a significant resource. My employer-provided health care plan includes mental health benefits.  My state is considering legislation that all plans must provide equivalent mental health benefits in health care plans.  Identifying resources through my health plan requires a certain determination working through the labyrinth of providers, specialties, and benefits.  I cannot imagine one of my children who struggles with mental illness navigating such a course by himself, but I can be his advocate and help there.

My employer also provides a Total Health toll-free number which employees can call with all sorts of personal concerns.  The number is staffed by a third-party contractor who helps discern whether the need is medical or mental health-related, and may include issues from financial concerns to marital problems to abuse within the family, and will help the caller to know where to turn for help.  Where insurance benefits come into play, the Total Health contractors help to identify resources that are consistent with insurance coverage.

Community Mental Health

In the 1980s, a major shift in mental health care in the United States took place, moving those who suffer with serious mental illness from institutional living to community care.  In most communities, community mental health agencies were established.  In my Midwestern state, these agencies are managed at the county level, and my adult son who has no insurance (and no employment) has access to mental health services through our county’s community mental health agency.  He can receive counseling, job search help, psychiatric medications, and group counseling services.  The level of services differs from county to county within my state.  The community mental health benefits include psychiatric hospitalization when required.

Support Organizations

There are a number of national organizations with local chapters to support mental health consumers and their families.  One of the most prominent is the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI, www.nami.org), which has local chapters in all 50 states.  NAMI sponsors peer support groups for those who cope with mental illness as well as for family members.  They also offer education for family members, and generally are well informed of local resources available.  NAMI also has a strong national organization that is working to certify local organization to ensure quality at each level of service.  Additionally they provide political advocacy on issues of mental health at all levels of government.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA, www.dbsalliance.org) is a support organization specifically for those who cope with depression and bipolar disorder, and also features peer support and family support.  Like NAMI, it’s organized into local chapters.

Pennsylvania School Counselors Association ConferenceThere are other organizations that one can find on an internet search.  Like any organization of its type, these local groups are likely to be as good as the people running them.  I have personal experience with these two in my area and can recommend them.

In fact, in the case of one of my loved ones, we knew there was a problem, but we had no idea how serious it was.  In our first NAMI support group meeting, we began to discuss what we had observed and the group leader helped us understand that our loved one needed immediate psychiatric attention and how to get it.

Hospitals and Healthcare Providers

Of course your family doctor can recommend a psychiatrist or counselor, or help you identify where to turn.  And if you or your loved one is in an emergent situation (for instance, threatening suicide or harm to others), the emergency room at your local hospital is equipped to help.  If a patient presents a clear danger to himself and others, most facilities will hold him for up to 72 hours for observation and diagnosis.  If, after that time, the facility determines he is no longer a risk, the patient will be released.

Courts

It is possible to have someone committed.  In our community, an advocate can petition to have someone committed in court, assuming there is sufficient evidence to support the petition.  It is not necessary to have legal representation, and the support groups I mentioned above can often help individuals navigate the process.  My experience is that no one finds the commitment process emotionally easy, but in cases in which the sufferer may be a danger to himself or others, it may be the most loving alternative.

Another alternative is that a care facility may petition for commitment after (or during) the 72-hour observation following admission in the ER.

Books

There are plenty of resources to read – published books, memoirs, blogs, and websites.  You’ll find no end of advice about diet and vaccinations and medication and exercise and on and on.

amadorOne book that has been helpful to me is Xavier Amador’s I Am Not Sick:  I Don’t Need Help! In it he outlines how to speak to affected loved ones who may not have insight into their own disease.  He speaks from his years of experience as a practicing psychiatrist, and his experience with his own brother who suffered from mental illness. There are many other books I’ve read, though Amador’s is the one I consistently recommend.

I would say this: I’m personally cautious of memoir-style books.  They are helpful in understanding experiences, but they may or may not offer solid clinical expertise.  On the other hand, clinical texts are dry and difficult for me to understand, and I am not interested in diagnosing my loved ones.  A public library is a great resource for allowing you to sample a number of books without cost until you find a couple you’ll want to refer to repeatedly.

Hotlines

Some communities have hotlines for suicide threats.  The national suicide prevention hotline is (800) 273-8255.

 

In the end, we must learn to cope, and the more we learn, the better we can cope.  I have found in my own journey that each resource I identify leads me to other resources.

 

The Entire Series

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

3 Responses to Resources for Help with Mental Illness

  1. Heather says:

    I would like to also add that although LDSFS is often not covered by insurance, those needing help but with a difficulty in paying can get help through their ward. They will need to speak with their bishop but I was able to participate in a 12 week recovery group at LDSFS for survivors of trauma as a result of help from ward funds. Changed my life and was so humbling to have the bishop tell me it was worth it, that *I* was worth it.

    Another resource: healingthroughchrist.org

  2. templegoer says:

    Thankyou so much for your loving and informed contribution to this series Paul. I’m sure many lives will be changed by this.

  3. Paul says:

    Heather, thanks for sharing your experience. The healingtroughchrist.org website is on our other “resources” post. The material there is very similar to what was being piloted in certain areas through LDSFS Family Support Group, a companion program to the Addiction Recovery Program. My understanding is that the LDSFS Family Support Group program will seek a wider audience “soon” (whatever that means).

    templegoer, thanks for reading. :-)

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