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Mental Fitness: An open letter to the family of a person with a mental health struggle

November 28, 2018

mental-fitness-murtaugh.jpgIf you have a child or a spouse struggling with their mental health, this article is for you.

I was introduced to the mental healthcare system 17 years ago when I was a senior in high school. Unfortunately, if you are a beginner, the process will likely be highly stressful for you, difficult to understand, and will involve a lot of trial and error over a long period of time. It will likely be a bumpy ride. Here are some things that I have learned along the way that may help you.

Try to direct anger and other emotions at the disease. No person is to blame for the illness. Cancer sucks, not cancer patients. The same is true for mental illness.

A healthy brain looks different on medical imaging. An unhealthy brain functions differently in the same way an unhealthy heart functions differently. People with the disease understand the disease in a way that only they can. You will not understand it in the same way, and that is OK.

During an episode, it is harder for me to answer questions/communicate. Questions can be difficult to answer when my brain chemistry is imbalanced. It is hard to put into words what I am experiencing. Sometimes I reach the point where my brain just shuts down. When I feel good, I could answer the same question with no problem. The best question to ask me during an episode is, “How did you sleep?” Other good questions to ask:

• How is your focus/concentration?

• How is your appetite?

• Do you need some down time?

• Have you been outside today?

• Do you have anything fun planned?

Nobody knows how long an episode will last; it could be two days or two months. You cannot make an episode shorter, but you can trigger a longer episode. The goal is to trust that it will pass and avoid trying to fix it. It can be helpful to remind the person of past times when they came through it and the symptoms went away.

It is critical to find a highly skilled psychiatrist for medication management. Once you find the right doctor, trust in their expertise. Do your best to stay out of medication management. Family input on medication decisions can make things worse.

Regular therapy with a mental health professional is necessary. If someone is resistant to treatment, don’t ever stop encouraging them to seek professional help. I currently go to individual therapy every other week. The main reason I continue to go to therapy is for awareness. Talk therapy helps me assess how I am doing and to plan for the future to avoid negative consequences.

It is likely a permanent and lifelong condition. It is important to accept this reality. Otherwise, an unrealistic expectation of overcoming the disease can be created.

Beneficial articles and media

• National Football League: “Browns player Chris Hubbard opens up about mental health,” www.news5cleveland.com, Oct., 2018, by Lauren Brill.

• College Football: “How a former CU athlete is leading a new path for mental health,” www.espn.com, Nov. 8, 2018, by Dan Murphy, ESPN staff writer.

• Lady Gaga and WHO director-general: “800,00 people kill themselves every year. What can we do?” www.theguardian.com, Oct. 9, 2018, by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Lady Gaga.

• “Meet Your Law Firm’s New Director of Lawyer Well-Being: Taking the issue of lawyer wellness to a new level,” www.attorneyatwork.com, Nov. 14, 2018, by Link Christin.

• “Lawyers Reaching Out to Lawyers with Mental Health Problems: Beyond the HR department,” www.attorneyatwork.com, Oct. 25, 2018, by Dan Lukasik.

Mental fitness exercise: holiday kindness challenge

During the busy holiday season, take time to do something kind for a family member.

For example, give someone your full attention and listen to their full story, write a kind comment on social media, send a kind text, or acknowledge a family member’s contributions.•

Reid D. Murtaugh — reidmentalfitness@gmail.com — is an attorney in Lafayette and the founder of Murtaugh Law. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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