Mental Illness

Resources, Self-Care, More

In 1989, my mother, Lynne, a brilliant artist, seamstress, and interior decorator had her first (known) episode of psychosis. I was half-way between my tenth and eleventh years, not quite a child, not quite a teenager, a vulnerable time for any child; I needed a mother. Instead, she devolved into a strange brew of hallucinations (auditory and visual), periods of grandiosity, narcissism, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, guilt, paranoia, drugs, hypersexuality, and more. Her behavior was confusing and odd and frightening. As a child–as a daughter–I found myself alone in a dark, uncertain world, one in which mothers are supposed to take care of their children. Instead, I took care of her. But not entirely. My father was there, too. And he was supportive and strong, shielding my sister and I from the worst of it. Yet, there was so much I witnessed and internalized.

My father knew what to do: he took her to the ER at a prestigious Midwestern hospital. My sister and I rode along in the car, my mother attempting to jump from the moving vehicle on the highway. We watched as she gripped the frame of the car, fighting to go inside. The people in the white coats are not a myth. The came. They brought her into the hospital. A long in-take process ensued. We were children. My father was thirty-five. His marriage as he knew was over. My mother, as I knew her, was gone.

At first I felt isolated, ashamed, confused. How could this have happened? My beautiful talented mother? I had no resources to draw from; I didn’t know how to feel. No one’s mother had devolved into psychosis.

Here’s what I did a a child: I made art. I wrote. I cleaned. I withdrew into myself and became more perceptive and intuitive. I found solace in nature and pets.

Here’s what I do now: I make art. I write. I clean. I am perceptive and intuitive. I find solace in nature and pets and exercise, too.

Between all that, I volunteered in pediatric wards and suicide hotlines, blood banks and hospice centers. I babysat children and read books with them and their pets, I prepared and served meals at the Ronald McDonald House and became a Big Sister to a disadvantaged little girl; taught Family-to-Family classes through NAMI and became trained in The Incredible Years. I became a mother myself.

All along, I made no effort to hide the fact that my mother was mentally ill. People knew. Maybe not right away, but they knew. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years now. My mother’s mental illness is not a secret. Because secrets will eat you alive.

Here’s the thing: seek information. Seek support. IGNORE stigma.

When my estranged mother died by suicide in 2015, I didn’t know what to feel or where to go. What should I tell others? My mother died. Of natural causes? Of mental illness? Which is natural? But an imbalance? Of suicide? By suicide? Did I feel sad or relieved? Was I angry or elated? Was there a right or a wrong way to feel? Complex grief, to say the least.

It’s possible to move through the days with understanding. It’s not easy. Some days I feel haunted and hunted by my mother, even in her death. Other days, there’s a deep pool of sadness for her–for her troubled soul and the fact that she is not here to see the glorious sky or spring unfurl her magic, or to kiss the sweet cheeks of her grandchildren.

Seek knowledge. Be honest.

If you feel like you need help, you probably do. Denial won’t do anyone any favors.

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If your life, or or those around you are in danger, STOP. Call 911.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline available to everyone 24/7. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

Crisis Text Line
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.

Veterans Crisis Line
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.

Disaster Distress Helpline
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746

The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.

View the NIMH 5 action steps for helping someone in emotional pain infographic to see how you can help those in distress.

Find a Health Care Provider or Treatment

Treatment for mental illnesses usually consists of therapymedication, or a combination of both. Treatment can be given in person or through a phone or computer (telehealth). Start with your…

Primary Care Provider: Your primary care practitioner can be an important resource, providing initial mental health screenings and referrals to mental health specialists. If you have an appointment with your primary care provider, consider bringing up your mental health concerns and asking for help.

Federal Resources: Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying health care providers and help in finding low-cost health services. These include:

National Agencies and Advocacy and Professional Organizations: Advocacy and professional organizations can be a good source of information when looking for a mental health provider. They often have information on finding a mental health professional on their website, and some have practitioner locators on their websites. Examples include but are not limited to:

You might also consider State and County Agencies: Go to the website of your state or county government and search for the health services department.

Insurance Companies: If you have health insurance, a representative of your insurance company will know which local providers are covered by your insurance plan. The websites of many health insurance companies have searchable databases that allow you to find a participating practitioner in your area. You can start by calling the 1-800 member services number on the back of your insurance card.

University, College, or Medical Schools: Local college, university, or medical schools may offer treatment options. Try searching on the website of local university health centers for their psychiatry, psychology, counseling, or social work departments.

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Self-care is important.

If you are the caregiver, spouse, child or adult child of someone with a mental illness, you need healthy support and nurturing outlets. Seek therapy. Lean on friends. Find a Support Group. Exercise. Read. Do yoga. Meditate. Write. Garden. Discover a hobby. Eat well. Sleep well. You are important.

Reading Recommendations:

Some Non-Fiction/Memoir Favorites on mental illness: 

Fiction Favorites with an Element of Mental Illness: 

Your story may be different, but your experiences are the same.

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Portions of this page adapted from the NIMH.