Sunday, February 26, 2012

Looking for Trouble: Signs of an Impending Mental Health Crisis

Seeing the smoke helps to identify the fire.  So it's important to know the early warning signs of a mental health crisis and to act so you can minimize relapses. 

Family members and close friends are typically those who see the signs first.  That's because those close to someone with mental illness are most likely to know both the characteristics of the illness and the personality of the individual.  Signs that something is wrong can include:
  • A distinct change in sleep pattern
  • An increase in irritability
  • Statements that show disorganized thinking or bizarre thoughts
  • Exaggerated fears
  • Excessive or inappropriate emotions
  • Angry outbursts 
  • Volatile behavior
  • Increased isolation
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty doing things that could be done easily before
  • Any other unusual behavior that has preceded a relapse in the past
When you notice these issues, you should:
  1. Talk to others involved in caregiving to discuss impressions and form a plan of action.
  2. Contact the psychiatrist and suggest an evaluation of current medication.
  3. Keep any changes in routine to a minimum as much as possible.
  4. Keep the person's environment as safe and peaceful as possible.
  5. Keep emergency telephone numbers in your cell phone and carry it with you at all times.
  6. If possible, talk to your loved one about the situation. 
Next, we'll take a look at signs of suicide and what to do if you see them. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worshipping God On High. Via Southwest Airlines.

The flight took off at 6:05 a.m., signaling the beginning of a business day that would end when another flight landed around 11 p.m. It was a lovely day, a useful day.  But I had worried about it as my stamina ain't what it used to be.

What I didn't expect took place around 6:15 a.m. as I sat in a window seat flying east above the clouds into a brilliant red horizon, a preface to sunrise. Getting up at 3:50 to make the flight, I had planned to do morning prayer while in the air. I just hadn't expected how touching it would be.

Opening my Worship Music playlist, I randomly selected "Holy, Holy, Holy."  "Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee." Indeed.  Even better ... "All the earth shall sing Thy praise in earth and sky and sea."  I realized that I might be the only person on earth in an airplane silently singing those words while looking at the red horizon.  And I realized once again that I am so grateful for God's creativity in creating this planet and all that's on it.

I came to loving worship music late.  A fan of jazz and classical music mostly, I didn't much like Christian rock music. When we came to Vineyard, where worship music is the first 25 minutes or so of service, my husband and I at first spent much time looking at our watches. My, how we have changed.

Worship music is part of our daily practice today. I use it if my mind gets stuck on my troubles, if I can't sleep, when I begin to spiral into negative thinking. An iPod with a worship music playlist is an essential to any caregiver prone to late night emergencies.  And it works great on an airplane, too!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Creating a Support Network

"You're not going to live forever. He has to learn to be on his own, and the sooner, the better." My husband and I recently heard those words, and they struck us at a very deep level.  Like everyone who has caregiving responsibilities, we worry about what will happen to our loved one when we are gone.

That's why every caregiver needs a supportive network. The larger and more helpful your network is, the better off you are. But, as we all know, building a supportive network around your loved one is not easy. Who do you know who isn't busy? Who is willing to learn about mental illness, and who is has enough compassion to enter that world?

I will confess that this is an area in which I haven't found much success.  So far my support network is small, and that counts two family members with paws. (Quite honestly, the most extraordinary among us is a calico cat who always seems to know when bad times come and parks herself on top of my loved one, purring. Her companionship is quite a blessing.)

The most obvious choices for a network are spouses, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives. Some, if not most, will decline the offer to become involved.  This is an area in which we must strive to not become bitter. You don't want reluctant recruits anyway, do you? If at all possible, build a network that will outlast your life.

For that reason, it's important to keep inviting people over time. It's easier to get paid professionals involved. (Because you pay them, apparently.) You also can branch out to include volunteers from organizations. Never turn away anyone who can occasionally check on your loved one when you are on a respite trip, cook a meal or take your loved one to a doctor.

Regular visits from family members can help your loved one, even if the reaction is not ideal. (As Tom Smith wrote in "A Balanced Life," the more unpredictable your loved one is, the more you need balanced and mature people in your network who will not be offended.) You can encourage people to take NAMI's Family-to-Family class on mental illness to learn more. People in your network not only need to understand the situation, they also are encouraged to share observations with you.

Does all this make you feel sorry for yourself because no one is helping you? Reach out at least online or join a support group.  I'm active in Mental Health America's Families in Touch as well as co-leading a Christian support group called Loving Someone With Mental Illness. That gives you a place to find support and get help when you need to figure it all out.