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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Advice for newly diagnosed mental health patients and their families

It usually comes out of the blue, sometimes without warning.  Maybe you notice a peculiar behavior your loved one has exhibited a few days before the first episode.  Typically the first episode is referred to is a psychotic break.  It's a break with reality.  Your loved one may be behaving strangely, seemingly not paying attention to you, or completely engrossed in what looks to you like just a corner of the wall.  They are hallucinating, seeing things that aren't there.  They may seem to talk to themselves, but in reality, they are hearing voices and having a conversation with those voices that no one can hear but them.  They may not want to do things they enjoy like watching television or listening to music.  This is because they may be seeing things on a television show that aren't there.  Music, they may believe has a coded message and when they listen to it, they intently try to decode the message.  In the car they may avoid looking out the window because they don't want to see license plates because they have to decode them.  They may rage, become inappropriately, intensely angry.  They may become very depressed.  They may become catatonic, eyes glazed over.  They may have poverty of speech, talk very very little or stop talking at all.  Your loved one may attempt suicide, or hurt someone else.

All of these things can be scary to the family, and to the loved one.  Their hallucinations may be terrifying, like scarier than the scariest movie they've ever seen.

It can be incredibly heartbreaking when your loved one exhibits these symptoms at an age as young as 14.

Three things you must do:
Communicate with the doctors, nurses and staff on the unit where your loved one is hospitalized.  If you don't understand the medications you are asked to approve, ask questions.  What does this medication do?  What are the side effects of this medication?  Can any of the side effects become permanent?  If they blow you off (yes, they are very overworked), persist.  This is your loved one and you need answers and the doctors, nurses and staff are the best ones to get them from.  They observe your loved one 24/7, and will see all the symptoms and notice any side effects.  Try to gain a good rapport with the Floor Nurse, she sees everything!  He or she may be the one who spends the most time with your loved one, especially if your loved one is having a hard time with their illness or adjusting to being on a hospital mental health unit.

Research online, in the library.  Find out everything you can about the illness your loved one has been diagnosed with.  Research the medications that your loved one has been prescribed.  Participate in any forums on the websites you view.  Read what the other people have contributed.  This can be an overwhelming experience, but you may find success stories that will give you hope.

Contact NAMI - National Alliance On Mental Illness.
NAMI has local chapter all over the country that have Support Groups, Discussion Groups.  Ask to speak to your Local NAMI's Director and explain to them your loved one's situation.  Be prepared to give their diagnosis and list of medications.  Ask the Director any questions you have, ask them how you can best advocate for your loved one.  Ask them when the next Support Groups meeting is and where they meet.

Find your Local NAMI.
After your loved one is discharged, depending on their age, have them sign a Medical Power of Attorney designating a family member or good friend to make medical decisions on their behalf when they become ill.  This trusted person then has the authority to approve medications and authorizes the hospital to share information with you about your loved one's condition.

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