What Is It Like?

What Is It Like To Have a Mental Illness?

Empathy is defined as “feeling concern and understanding for another person’s situation and feelings.”

However, it can be difficult to empathize with our ill relatives because we would have to have their mental illness to truly “walk a mile in their shoes”.

To bridge this difficulty, we present information geared towards the families of individuals suffering from major mental illness.  It will help you better understand the challenges facing your loved ones.

We currently have sections on Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, and we are working on sections for the other major mental illnesses


What is it Like to Have Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder – also known as Manic Depression is a brain disorder that affects 1.2% of the American population.  In this illness a person’s mood can alternate between the “poles” – mania (highs) and depression (lows)  that don’t necessarily have anything to do with what’s going on in their life.  This change in mood or “mood swing” can last for hours, days, weeks or months.

These swings can severely disrupt a person’s life.  While manic, a person can have incredible energy – but can also be extremely angry and argumentative and can get into severe financial problems due to impaired judgment.  While depressed, a person can have difficulty functioning at all, and they can be at risk of suicide.

The following links provide background information not only about the illness and treatments, but also on the family and societal impact.  In addition, they show that early diagnosis and  treatment can allow patients to recover and lead productive lives.

  • Bipolar Community – is an excellent page on HealthyPlace.com (which bills itself as America’s Mental Health Channel).  Good discussion of bipolar disorder symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.  It includes the diagnostic criteria used to classify different types of Bipolar Disorder, as well as a Frequently Asked Questions page on how to explain Bipolar Disorder to other people.

In addition, the site includes several audio and video programs about bipolar disorder in adults, adolescents, and children.

  • Living with Manic Depression” – a 49-minute  audio recording of an NPR “Talk of the Nation” interview with NPR’s Jacki Lyden and psychiatrist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison.  Ms. Lyden talks about growing up with a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder, while Dr. Jamison discusses how her bipolar disorder has affected her personal and professional life.  The audio is in Real Player format.
  • Dark Glasses and Kaleidoscopes: Living with Manic Depression” – a 33-minute on-line video about bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression).  It  includes interviews with people in recovery from bipolar disorder, and dramatizations of how the illness impacts both the ill individual and their family.  Note that this video starts a bit slow, but gets better as it goes along.  The video is in Real Player format.
  • Things Fall Apart – Shani Silverstein’s essay about life with bipolar disorder – from the diagnosis during her teens to her experiences as a life as a married woman with children.

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What is it Like to Have Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that creates delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking and speech.  It typically develops in young adults during their teens and 20’s.  It afflicts 1% of the American population, and is one of the top ten causes of disability in developed countries worldwide.

Having said that, many individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are able to successfully manage their illness and lead good lives. The following links provide background information not only about the illness and treatments, but also on the family and societal impact – and that with early diagnosis and  treatment there is considerable hope for recovery.

  • Overview of Schizophrenia – an excellent page on HealthyPlace.com (which bills itself as “America’s Mental Health Channel”).  Good, thorough discussion of schizophrenia symptoms, diagnosis, and effective treatment methods (the latter involves combining medications with patient/family education on communication techniques and stress management).
  • Stories about living with Schizophrenia – this page features Personal Schizophrenia Stories – some written by and about people living with schizophrenia – others written by relatives of individuals with that illness.  The stories are alternately poignant, heart-breaking, and inspiring.  Be sure to read the one about the young lady who auditioned for “American Idol” and actually left judge Simon Cowell speechless!.
  • Reaching Out – this excellent on-line video was produced by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.  It intertwines two stories – a dramatization about a high school student developing schizophrenic symptoms – and a series of interviews with adults who have learned to successfully manage their illness.

The film’s purpose is to educate students (and adults) about the early warning signs of schizophrenia; the importance of early diagnosis and treatment; and that there is hope for recovery and a full, productive life.

The video is approximately 22 minutes long (QuickTime Format), and the web  page includes instructional material for teachers.

  • The Janssen Schizophrenia Simulator is a virtual reality machine that uses a computer, video goggles and headphones  (see picture below)  to simulate the frightening delusions and auditory and visual hallucinations associated with untreated schizophrenia.

NAMI-Finger Lakes sponsored Simulator showings in Ithaca in the Fall of 2006, and we compiled the following documents and sound files as publicity for the event.

For those who prefer MP3 files:

News Stories about the Simulator:

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