Mental illness awarness week: Finding success in the face of mental illness

A person suffering from a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia must not only face the rigors of the condition’s symptoms, but also the commonly held, negative perceptions of the illness. It is such stigma that often keeps those with mental illness from informing loved ones about the symptoms and seeking treatment for the condition.

Psychology Today writer Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., notes a study carried out by University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California in collaboration with the Veteran’s Administration. The study subjects had varying mental health conditions and were leading productive lives. The researchers were interested in discovering what factors contributed to the rejection of stigma, allowing these subjects to function successfully in society. The subjects included doctors, lawyers and CEOs.

The researchers found that the subjects who were able to excel in the face of mental illness had some common traits and behaviors. According to the research these subjects:

  • Took their prescribed medication on a regular basis
  • Compared their thoughts and perceptions with those of other people
  • Consciously controlled their environment, sometimes with clinical help
  • Sometimes avoided travel and crowds
  • Sometimes preferred not to be alone
  • Refrained from consuming alcohol and illegal drugs

The diagnosis of a mental illness made the participants very aware of how daily activities are performed. Each participant had a specific routine; some took prescribed medication and some did not. They tended to seek outside assistance and information when making a big decision and they participated in regular physical and mental exercise to control anxiety and other emotions.

The study results show that the subjects identified their problem and worked out a plan to function as well as possible, allowing them to succeed in even the most difficult situations.

In 2011, The New York Times published a story about Marsha Linehan, a therapist and researcher at the University of Washington who pioneered dialectical behavior therapy. She was diagnosed at 17 with schizophrenia. Considering her personal struggle with mental illness and how it could help others, Linehan decided to make her condition public. She told her story in front of an audience of friends, family and doctors at the Institute of Living in Hartford where she was first diagnosed. Linehan, now 68, said, “So many people have begged me to come forward and I just thought, well I have to do this. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward.” She credits acceptance as the first step in recovery.

Many people like Linehan, live normal lives while managing severe mental illness; they work and raise families while battling symptoms that might overwhelm many people. The time is right to come forward and learn how to manage a mental health condition. The first step is to ask for help. If you or a loved one has a mental health disorder, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time for further information.