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Play the ball as it lies

Posted Aug 07 2009 12:19pm
This is my last post before taking the month of August off. I am at a crossroads as to the direction of my blog. I hope that my time away will provide fresh insight or else help me to realize that my blog has served its purpose and it's time to close. Comments and suggestions are most welcome. I read and answer every e-mail.

A reader has asked me what I think the cause is of Chris's problems. I answered "me"! I am only being partly facetious when I say this. While there are probably many reasons for why Chris is the way he is, I do think that mental illnesses (in fact other illnesses, too) grow out of the family story. As painful as it is, I feel that self-examination is important to appreciate larger truths. Another way of looking at is that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree". This to me is a comforting thought. It says that Chris's problems are not insurmountable, in fact, they are understandable in the family context.

Too many of us turn our problems over to institutions and seek medical answers when we could put more of the onus on ourselves to seek answers and to provide solutions. Nobody will ever care about your relative the way you do, or the way you should. Many readers will object to this last statement, citing personal circumstances, dual diagnoses and the impossibility of living with someone with a mental illness.

What I have noticed, is that Chris wants to be with his family. His behaviour at home has, on occasion, tested our patience beyond all belief, but sending him away is only a temporary solution. While he is away is a chance for us to get our own house in order. The street is not an option for us, no matter how tempting it is in our worst moments. The loneliness of those diagosed with a mental illness only intensifies when separated from the family. Sure, I can visit Chris every day in the hospital, but it's not the same.

What is missing in the mental sytem, no matter where you live, is empowerment, helping patients and families to help themselves get better. If the customer is always right, then why isn't the patient, or the involved family member, by extension, always right? If, for example, a person does not want to take medications, then shouldn't this be an indication that some other solution should be sought? When families can't cope with the patient at home, then why aren't there affordable, short term, drug free treatment options to allow a needed time-out? Mainstream medicine is not very consumer oriented when it comes to allowing people to choose.

Has anyone ever noticed that we do not play the ball as it lies when we come to treating mental illness? Many people who have been labelled mentally ill are creative. They are inclined to art and music. Yet, the solutions we impose on them are scientific. We give them meds and talk about their biochemical imbalances, as if they are laboratory animals. Could they be telling us that the solutions to their problems (our problems) lie in the realm of art and music if we would only speak their language?
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