February 23, 2015

Ask anyone who has a family member who lives with mental illness, and they’ll tell you it isn’t always what someone would consider smooth sailing.When a family is presented with this category of illness, they may feel like they’ve entered an alien world. With a physical illness, it’s often easy to at least obtain information through a doctor, if not through support groups or other organizations, and there’s less shame in discussing it. Mental health conditions, on the other hand, still have an air of secrecy about them.

Both individuals and family members are given the onerous burden of confronting something that even the medical community doesn’t fully understand. Families are often left with little knowledge of where to go or who to turn to. Fortunately, Dr. Lloyd Sederer is aware of this, and he will tell you: you’re not alone.

In January, Dr. Seder gave a TEDx Talk in Albany, NY titled “When Mental Illness Enters a Family”, which included a shout-out to the NAMI Family-to-Family program. He provides listeners with four main steps to cope with the effects of mental illness:

  • Don’t go it alone
  • Don’t get into fights
  • Learn how the system works, learn the rules—and bend them
  • Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint

Dr. Sederer is no mere psychiatrist moonlighting as a tourist guide. He is the medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health—i.e., chief psychiatrist for the nation’s largest state mental health organization and former medical director and executive vice president of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. He is also the mental health editor and columnist for The Huffington Post.

In 2014, Sederer spoke at the NAMI National Convention and is the author of The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, a terrific resource for families trying to understand what their loved one is going through. He uses humor and plain language and doesn’t pull punches. Families who navigate the world of mental illness will need to “set aside their confusion, sadness and anger—suspending any feeling of despair—about what’s happening in order to get on with what needs to be done.”

For more information on how you can care for a loved one with a mental health condition, join NAMI and Health Central’s Twitter Chat on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. Participate by using the hashtag #HealthTipsChat.

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