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Friends, Family Help People With Mental Illness

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Approximately 71,000 adults in Nebraska have a serious mental illness, an often misunderstood but common health condition that causes changes in a person’s thinking, mood and behavior.

“It’s important to remember that people can and do recover from mental illness and lead productive lives with the support of our friends in the community,” said Carol Coussons de Reyes, Office of Consumer Affairs administrator in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Scot Adams, director of the Division of Behavioral Health in DHHS, said that there are more treatments and community support systems than ever before, but recovery does not happen in isolation. “Friendship is one of the most important factors in recovery,” Adams said.

“My friends and family have made a difference just by understanding and assisting throughout the course of my mental illness,” Coussons de Reyes said. “You can do a lot by simply listening to someone. For example, when a friend tells you they were diagnosed with a mental illness, ask them to tell you about their experience and feelings.”

Here are some tips on how to respond if a friend tells you he or she has a mental illness:

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* Express your concern and sympathy.

* Make sure your friend understands that you honestly care. Ask for more details about how he or she is managing and really listen.

* Remind your friend that mental illness is treatable. Find out if the friend is getting the care he or she needs and wants.

* Ask what you can do to assist. Rides to medical appointments or keeping the person company in the waiting room can ease some of the anxiety and reluctance that people feel when faced with a life-changing diagnosis.

* Be sure to include your friend in everyday plans, like going out to eat or catching a movie. If your friend resists these overtures, reassure and re-invite without being overbearing.

“You can make a difference in your community just by being present and available to your friend who is living with a mental illness,” Coussons de Reyes said.

Adams encouraged consumers, families, and advocates to go to the new Network of Care Web site. This easy-to-use, comprehensive Web site provides vital information about treatment resources and diagnoses, insurance, advocacy and other pertinent behavioral health Web sites.