When you have a toothache or a fracture you have a rough idea of what the process will be.  You go to the dentist or doctor who suggests a treatment.  Then he or she tells you how long it will take to heal and how to be careful.  When your brain needs help, you may wonder what to expect.  However, the process is similar.

When your brain needs help, you may wonder what to expect.

Your family doctor may send you to a psychiatrist or other professional, you will be offered a treatment, but you may not be told how long it will take and how to be careful.  This is, however, a very important discussion to have.  For the person who is very ill, it is helpful they have a trusted family member or friend who can attend appointments with them, and take notes or ask questions.
A scratch, a cut, or broken bone begins to heal almost immediately.  With the right treatment, so does your brain.  The healing may be fairly quick or it may take a long time, but healing does happen.

When you start treatment, usually medication, there are important questions to ask:

  • Do I have a diagnosis?  Sometimes the diagnosis is not clear for a while.
  • What are these medications for?
  • Are there side effects I should watch for?
  • If they cause dry mouth how will that affect my teeth?
  • How do I handle dry mouth if it happens?
  • What will the medication do for me?
  • How long will it take to have an effect? (Some can take as long as 6 weeks)
  • What if I miss a dose?
  • What else is important besides medication?
  • Where can I go to learn more (support groups, websites, books)?

A serious mental illness can affect mood, energy, ability to concentrate, need for sleep, conversational skills, memory, physical fitness, relationships with other people, ability to learn new things, and many other skills.  It is important to be thinking about recovery from the very beginning.  It may take a few weeks for medication to help.  Sometimes the medication has to be stopped and a new one started.  But once the person begins to feel a bit better, families and friends can help by offering opportunities.

It is important to be thinking about recovery from the very beginning.

Make the task small and achieveable.  If the person says no, offer opportunities on other occasions.   Maybe your family member can’t get organized to do laundry.  Start by having them put the laundry in a basket.  Thank them.   Next time, ask them to move the basket for you.  Thank them.   Keep adding a small task.  It might take a long time, but as long as they do one small thing you have the opportunity to say thank you.  Respect the fact that they may only be able to do a tiny part of the job, and that is okay.  Saying thank you is a huge step towards helping re-build self esteem.  What comes naturally for most may be very difficult for someone who is ill.

About Sheila Morrison.

Sheila is an accomplished freelance/creative writer, community volunteer, and public speaker. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The mother of an adult daughter who lives with mental illness, Sheila is a passionate advocate for mental health initiatives which respect and support individuals and families. Sheila calls her daughter her hero.