7 Tools for Understanding Mental Illness

“Normal is just a setting on a dryer” – Patsy Clairmont

There’s a silent cancer that affects most of us in some way or another. It’s called mental illness and it’s something we don’t talk about.

So, can we talk?

There’s a wide range of mental health conditions that affect kids and parents  – anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, autism and substance abuse are just a few to name. Do you know someone with these conditions? Do you or your kids have one of these conditions?

We need to break the negative stereotype of mental illness. Just like cancer affects our lives and families, so does mental illness. Neither one is better or worse than the other. We need to support each other when mental health issues affects us or someone we love. What can you do if you or someone you love is diagnosed with a mental health impairment?

  1. Have compassion. It’s easy to have compassion for someone with cancer, but many of us don’t know how to approach mental illness. Approach it a similar way – with empathy.
  2. Don’t define the person by their diagnosis. We seldom view a cancer patient through the lens of their condition, so don’t do it for individuals with a mental illness. Their condition isn’t their identity.
  3. Talk about it. There’s a myth that if we don’t talk about something, it disappears. Being silent doesn’t make mental illness go away. Be honest about mental health issues and how it affects a person’s life with compassion and understanding.
  4. Have realistic expectations. The person you love with a mental illness may look like everyone around them, but there are certain things they aren’t capable of until they engage the best treatments for their condition. This may include medicine, counseling, or both. However, for some individuals with mental illness, their condition truly limits them even with the best interventions.
  5. Accept their limitations. Even with medication or counseling, some mental health issues are severe and can’t be fixed with an easy answer. Mental health can be complicated and difficult for family members. Accepting a loved one’s condition can be a step in honestly dealing with limitations and expectations.
  6. Seek help – both for the individual and family members. Counseling is helpful not only for the person with mental illness, but also for caregivers and loved ones to learn how to have a quality life despite the illness.
  7. Seek to understand. Mental illness develops for a variety of reasons. Be informed about the mental illness your loved one has. Develop a relationship with the individual. Seek to understand what they may be dealing with. There’s not an easy answer to mental illness, but you can try to understand it as empathize as much as you can.

How has mental illness affected your family or child? How can you change your attitude towards the stereotype?

Brenda L. Yoder, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Life Coach

If you’d like more coaching information on how to walk alongside someone you love with a mental illness or how to take care of yourself as a parent or caregiver, find out more here.


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