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Severe and Persistent Mental Illness

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Bipolar Disorder » Featured Article

By Murray S. Kaufman, MA, LMFT, NBCDCH

Murray S. Kaufman, MA, LMFT, NBCDCHWhen an individual within a family is diagnosed with a serious mental illness (e.g., Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder), the foundation within the family is often shaken to its core. The news is devastating, and the diagnosed family member, due to the illness, is not able to function in the same way as before. This individual will more than likely require daily medication, and a great deal of support. The illness usually strikes in the early to mid-twenties, at one's prime of life, which makes the situation that much more difficult. Children may also be diagnosed with these disorders as well, and their prognosis usually is not as good. Families are often at a loss regarding how to cope with the situation and what is best for the diagnosed individual. Many families bring their son or daughter back home to live. Many families end up having to keep their loved one at home in order to care for them. After some time, the caregivers can understandably feel overwhelmed, and hopefully, will find support for themselves.

Schizophrenia affects the frontal cortex of the brain. This is the center of what we call executive functioning. This vital aspect of our brains, is described this way by Dr. James Chandler, MD FACP, "The executive in a company is the person who is in charge. She or he is the person who plans out how the resources of the company will be used. She decides what the priorities are. She decides what direction things will take in the long term. When there are conflicting reports or demands, the executive decides what to do about it. In a word, the executive is paid to think about things, look at the big picture, and keep the future in mind. In the brain, a large part of what the frontal areas do is executive functioning. They are the parts of the brain that decide the big issues like what are we going to do next? They allocate resources to different projects. They are supposed to help a person look at multiple possibilities when a decision needs to be made."

What can families do to best advocate for their loved one who has been diagnosed with serious mental illness? The following ideas and resources may be helpful:

  1. Contact the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). It's resources can provide information, caregiver support groups, and recommendations.

  2. Explore local resources such as non-profits that work with this population, and can assist with case management services, and support to families.

  3. Follow the latest in research on the website, NARSAD.

  4. Due to the frontal cortex being negatively affected by the illness, individuals with these illnesses may not understand the need for them to take medication. However, the newer anti-psychotic medications have less side effects than ever before. The right medication that provides the assistance to your loved one with a minimum of side effects can be found by a combination of the psychiatrist's knowledge, and trial and error. Speak to a psychiatrist who specializes in these conditions regarding medication.

  5. In my 8 yrs of experience working with this population, I realized how important it is for adults with these conditions to have the opportunity to live outside of the parent's home in a Group Home, or semi-supervised apartment settings. However, it can be understandably difficult for families to ask their loved one to make this type of change from living at home.

  6. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

About the Author...

Murray S. Kaufman has 25 years in the mental health field, including 16 years as a Marriage and Family Therapist and a Clinical Hypnotherapist. He worked for 8 yrs. as a Clinical Director in both California and New Jersey with clients who were diagnosed with both Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. He is also affiliated with Shields for Families, Inc. in Los Angeles, and serves as a Clinical Supervisor and Therapist in their Tamar Village Program. In addition, he maintains a private practice in Irvine, CA. called "Irvine Counseling and Hypnosis", providing quality, caring and effective counseling services including Individual Counseling, Marriage/Couples Counseling, Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy, and Family Counseling to clients in Irvine and Orange County, CA.

Last Update: 12/3/2010

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