A phenomenon that is familiar amongst those who have experienced the psychiatric hospitalization of a family member or themselves, is what we’ve come to joke about as “there are no casseroles”. Unlike with other serious illnesses that require hospitalization or an extended absence from one’s normal routine, there is a noticeable void when it comes to support. The usual flowers, casserole dishes delivered to the house, cards, visits, and phone calls that are commonly extended to those in crisis are replaced by a tentative awkwardness.
This isn’t because people are uncaring or unsympathetic. Often the illness is kept such a secret that only the closest of friends/relatives even know about it. When people do find out, they may want to avoid bringing it up because they don’t want to say the wrong thing or cause anyone to feel uncomfortable. This is reinforced when we are too afraid or embarrassed to talk about it. We may also feel protective of our loved ones and want to shelter them from being stigmatized.
I look forward to the day when mental health issues are considered to be no different from any other type of illness. As hard as it may be, this can only happen when we are willing to open up to those around us, even if we start with just a few trusted people. I’ve been surprised to find that once that conversation has been initiated, there are many others who have experienced a mental health problem either in themselves or a loved one.
There are times when it may be more prudent to maintain one’s privacy, especially when experience has shown that certain individuals’ reactions may cause additional stress or result in negative repercussions. In fact, we are entitled to privacy when it comes to our health care.
Nonetheless, we don’t need to go through this alone. In addition to opening up to a few trusted friends, there are many support groups available where you can speak freely and listen to others facing similar issues. Your mental health professional will be able to refer you to an appropriate group, and there are many online resources such as NAMI as well.
As fellow human beings, it seems natural to seek comfort in each other during difficult times, and ultimately that is what gives us the hope to continue on this journey.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.