OPINION — We are the parents of a 34-year-old daughter who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a biological brain disorder that interferes with normal brain chemistry. Our daughter has experienced crushing depression and exhausting euphoria that caused her to be hospitalized. We were living in chaos and crisis. Bringing awareness to mental health is important because many people struggling with mental illness and their families do not know where to find services.
Education is critical for us to understand what the mentally ill are going through. Understanding that mental illness is actually a brain disorder allows us to see those suffering with more compassionate eyes.
We understand the embarrassment, fear, guilt, frustration, and depression that cloak families who are coping with family mental illness issues. That certainly was us! Our lifeline was the family classes and classes for our daughter we took to understand the illness. We learned about the major mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bi-polar, mood disorders, including panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
Our daughter’s illness is not caused by character flaws or poor parenting, but by a biological brain disorder. She will always need the proper medications to help her function in her life. Through education, we became aware of what our daughter was experiencing in her illness. We learned how to communicate with her in a way that is non-threatening, more positive, and more productive.
Our pain and grief has been lightened by discussing our personal experiences and emotions with people going through the same devastating problems. Through classes we found a safe environment to reveal our worst thoughts and fears and we receive strength and compassion from class members. Our daughter has bonded with friends from her Bridges class and feels less isolated.
The mentally ill need advocates and support to help them live in society where they want to be productive. Stigma surrounding mental illness has produced a culture where we avoid talking about mental illness or make it the topic of a joke. We look at the mentally ill with blame and judgment.
Education challenges the myth of permanent incapacity due to mental illness. There is hope of recovery and rehabilitation. There is no cure from brain disorders, but people do recover, they get better. We have met people struggling with bi-polar disorder, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia and other disorders who are functioning very well as long as they stay on their medications and have a good support group.
Our daughter has held a job for the past three years. She has a social life that is rich and full. She has discovered her talent for graphic art, and in June she went back to college part time.
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Written by Pam and Wayne Connors for St. George Health & Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Pam and Wayne Connors teach the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, also known as NAMI, Family to Family classes in St. George. Pam Connors earned her bachelor’s degree in education, while Wayne Connors earned his master’s degree in adult vocational education. Wayne is currently the President of NAMI Utah State – St. George.
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