Living with Mental Health Challenges


Many people believe that mental health issues are rare or that they “happen to someone else.” In fact, mental illnesses are common and widespread. An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.

Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness or is experiencing mental distress. It can be physically and emotionally trying for everyone. It can also make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.

What is Mental Illness or a Mental Health Challenge?

A mental illness or mental health challenge is something that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to successfully cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental disturbances. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal. There are also less severe but equally challenging issues, particularly in children, which result in behavioral challenges that are rooted how the child mentally processes what is occurring in his or her world.

Mental Illnesses are Physical, Emotional and Psychological

Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment, individuals can learn to manage a mental illness or mental health challenge and in many cases, recover.

How to Cope Day-To-Day

Accepting Your Feelings

Despite the different symptoms and types of mental illnesses or challenges, many families who share similar experiences when a loved one is struggling. You may find yourself denying the warning signs, worrying what other people will think because of the stigma of mental health concerns, or wondering what caused your loved one to have these symptoms.

Accept that these feelings are normal and common among families going through similar situations. Find out all you can about your loved one’s condition by reading and talking with mental health professionals. Share what you have learned with others.

Handling Unusual Behavior

The outward signs of a mental health challenge are often behavioral. A person may be extremely quiet or withdrawn, or they may burst into tears, have great anxiety or have outbursts of anger.

Even after counseling or other treatment has started, some individuals with a mental health challenge can exhibit anti-social behaviors. When in public, these behaviors can be disruptive and difficult to accept. The next time you and your family member visit your doctor or mental health professional, discuss these behaviors and develop a strategy for coping.

Your family member’s behavior may be as dismaying to them as it is to you. Ask questions, listen with an open mind and be there to support them.

Establishing a Support Network

Whenever possible, seek support from friends and family members. If you feel you cannot discuss your situation with friends or other family members, find a self-help or support group. These groups provide an opportunity for you to talk to other people who are experiencing the same type of situation. They can listen and offer valuable advice.

Seeking Counseling

Therapy can be beneficial for both the individual with mental health challenge and for other family members. A mental health professional can suggest ways to cope and better understand your loved one’s symptoms and condition.

When looking for a therapist, be patient and talk to a few professionals so you can choose the person that is right for you and your family. It may take time until you are comfortable, but in the long run you will be glad you sought help.

Taking Time Out

It is common for the person with the mental illness to become the focus of family life. When this happens, other members of the family may feel ignored or resentful. Some may find it difficult to pursue their own interests.

If you are the caregiver, you need some time for yourself. Schedule time away to prevent becoming frustrated or angry. If you schedule time for yourself, it will help you to keep things in perspective and you may have more patience and compassion for coping or helping your loved one. Being physically and emotionally healthy helps you to help others.

Many families who have a loved one with mental health challenge or illness share similar experiences. It is important to remember that there is hope for recovery and that with treatment many people return to a productive and fulfilling life.

We Hear You and We’re Here to Help

For more than 80 years, Child Guidance & Family Solutions has been a nationally recognized behavioral health provider for Northeast Ohio children, teens, adults and families. Our team includes more than 150 therapists, psychiatrists and allied health professionals who are committed to the mental health of our community, its families and its children. If you or someone you care about needs help, contact us. We’re here to help.

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