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Better Understanding Mental Illness

There are a lot of myths surrounding mental illness. And because of the myths it can feel like you don't know enough to be able to help. But you don't need to be an expert on mental health to be a friend. It's often the everyday things that make a difference. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable with mental health problems and are frightened, as they don't know what to do. But doing nothing, or avoiding the issue can make things worse. Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one part of the person. People don't want to be defined by their mental health problem. People with mental health problems can and do get back on their feet and lead fulfilling lives. This is even more likely with your help.

What you can do to help
    • Be there to talk and listen.
    • It's often hard to tell someone about a mental health problem because of fear of people's reactions. So if someone talks to you, don't brush it off, acknowledge their problem and let them know you're there for them.
    • Make time to stay in touch. Call, visit or invite your friend to join you - carry on with whatever you normally do with your friend.
    • Ask the person how you can help - people will want support at different times in different ways. Stand by those who may be experiencing symptoms of mental health.
    • Think about the words you use. Words like loony, crazy, schizo and psycho can hurt.
    • Become more informed about mental illness and get involved.

Depression
It can be difficult to be with and to help someone who is seriously depressed. Some people who are depressed keep to themselves, while others may not want to be alone. They may react strongly to the things you say or do. It is important that you let them know that it is okay to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Listen and offer support rather than trying to contradict them or talk them out of it. Let them know you care. Ask them how you can help, and offer to contact their family doctor or a mental health professional. Find out about local self-help groups and attend a meeting with them. Try to be patient and non-judgemental. Most of all, don't do it alone - get other people to provide help and support too.

Self Injury
If you are hurting yourself, it is important to begin talking to someone you trust – for instance, a friend, family member, a teacher, school nurse, guidance counsellor. Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist or psychologist who can help you. There may be a support group in your area. If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it’s okay to ask. Just talking about self injury won’t cause someone to begin hurting themselves. Before you ask, learn more about self injury. It can be shocking to find that someone you care about is deliberately harming themselves, and it can be difficult to hear what they have to say. Offer support without judging or criticising. Try not to blame, or react as though their behaviour is impossible to understand. The path to good mental health may be a long one. Having realistic expectations can help both you and your loved one manage what may be a slow pace of change.

Eating Disorder
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone. Many men and women have eating disorders and there is no shame attached in asking for help. The problem is too big to fix on your own, and help and support are available. If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, learn what you can about these conditions. Express your concerns calmly and in a caring way. You can't force someone to change their behaviour, but you can let them know that you care and want to support them. Encourage the person to seek professional help. Don't lay blame and focus discussions on feelings, not food. Examine your own issues around food and weight. Be supportive, but do not enable the behaviour.

Schizophrenia-Psychosis
Families can be a big help. Working closely with health care professionals, family members can learn about the illness. Families can also provide useful information to the health care professionals. They can find ways to support people with schizophrenia and provide a nurturing environment that encourages communication.

If you, or someone close to you, is experiencing symptoms of psychosis:
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Don't wait. Look for help. Many persons with psychosis wait a long time before seeking treatment. But recovery is more difficult when effective treatment is delayed.

Talk to your family doctor. They can refer you to a specialist for a full assessment. At present, early psychosis intervention is the focus of much interest in the mental health community. Many medical and mental health professionals are themselves learning about the best approaches to treatment. Some cities in Canada already have centres designed specifically for the treatment of early psychosis.

Ask questions. Be persistent. It is important to consult with a medical professional who is familiar with early psychosis.

Educate yourself. Get the facts. There is a great deal of information available about early psychosis and recent developments in treatment. An excellent starting point is the web site developed by the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre (EPPIC) in Melbourne, Australia. Most public libraries provide free access to the internet.

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