As an older brother of two sisters, I take great pride in and value the responsibilities that come along with the role. Being their brother is a lifelong bond that is unmatched and quite difficult to put into words, but those who know, know. As big brothers, our natural inclination is to be a source of strength and protect our siblings by any means necessary when the time calls. But what do you do when a situation is out of your control and all you can do is cope with circumstances?
My sister, Nicole (27), lives with a combination of severe mental challenges – specifically schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Like many others in her unstable condition, she’s oftentimes in denial about her issues, thus making it difficult to provide the professional attention and consistent treatment she needs. The feelings of helplessness as a loved one battles through breakouts and manic states is something I wish upon no one. And although mental health remains a taboo topic in my community, I know I’m not the only one going through this. Too often, communities of color lack access to proper resources to combat their challenges. Or, even worse, they’re stigmatized – viewed as weak – for seeking outside support. There is no discussion, no room for tears or visible distress. These attitudes and social norms trap folks, like my sister and my family, into remaining silent. It’s time we shift that narrative.
Just as important as acknowledging the illness, identifying ways to overcome the inevitable obstacles you’ll encounter is also vital for anyone supporting a loved one living with mental challenges. Below are a few personal recommendations I felt may be useful for individuals in similar circumstances:
1. Understand the effects of holding “it” in – Emotions that are surrounded by confusion can be difficult to deal with if not handled with patience and care. And given we’re all capable of ‘masking’ personal issues, it can be very easy to compartmentalize your feelings in hopes of not affecting your day to day duties and relationships. That’s where it becomes tricky, and quite frankly, pretty dangerous if not tended to. Because once you hit a breaking point – and you will hit a breaking point – there’s a possibility you may look back at various relationships that were negatively affected because your demeanor, choice of words or body language were misinterpreted. Whether those are coworkers, outside family members or significant others, the majority of your network will be unable to empathize with you because they are unaware of what’s really going on. Being self aware and seeking the support of the proper resources (not friends) can go a long way in sustaining healthy and balanced relationships.
2. Dealing with police (5150) – Simply put, the police are not trained, nor adequately knowledgeable about mental illness; therefore, the likelihood of encounters quickly escalating for the worse can be high – especially in regards to minorities. Remaining calm and cooperative during a ‘5150’ call for your loved one can tremendously impact the support he or she receives it seems. Showing empathy and patience towards misinformed law enforcement can be beneficial. Traumatic episodes can be difficult for most, so avoiding confrontation will depend largely on a keen ability to self-manage.
3. Don’t forget about yourself – If we are not the best version of ourselves, we cannot be of service to anyone in a manner that is useful. Staying aligned and dedicated to strengthening your psyche via social, physical or therapeutic engagement will better equip you during challenging circumstances. I began yoga and therapy sessions when my sister’s mental stability intensified. It altered everything. My route doesn’t have to be yours, but definitely choose something. It’s vital for every member of the team to play their role to the highest degree.
Ultimately changing any negative stigmas associated with mental health starts with us. Advising those in your life who are impacted by mental challenges that it’s okay to cry, that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help and that having depression does not make you ‘crazy’. In fact, on the contrary, it makes us human and even more connected to others than we may actually know. Love Yourz!