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Mental Health Center

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Coming Out About Mental Illness

You've just been diagnosed with a mental illness. Now what? Here's how to tell the people you love.

Coping With Bad Reactions to Mental Illness continued...

"It's an educational tool that provides important information about depression, how family members can help someone with depression, and how to monitor treatment with a calendar and diary," says Julie Totten, the founder and president of Families for Depression Awareness. She says the tool, which should be available early next year, will also help you keep track of medication side effects and red flags, which should be shared with the therapist. "It also will be a tool to help families communicate."

NAMI promotes support groups and educational courses for people with mental illness and their families and friends. One program, called Family to Family, centers around the education of caregivers. The NAMI web site offers many useful educational resources as well as information about where to find free support groups and courses in your area, says Burland.

Keep in mind that some people might express concerns about your condition, and this isn't necessarily an act of judgment or rejection. Seriously consider the insights of your loved ones, who may be concerned about things such as suicide or substance abuse.

Supporting Friends and Family With Mental Illness

If someone you love tells you that they have a mental illness, think before you speak.

"Do an internal check of your own reaction instead of just flying off with your first impulsive reaction," says Lang. If you think your reaction may have to do with ignorance or lack of education on the topic -- or stigma -- talk to your doctor or a mental health professional before you start dolling out your own advice. Try to react the same way you would if you were told about a physical health problem that you don't know much about.

Avoid trying to be the hero or savior. Being empathic and understanding is one thing, but trying rescue someone is a completely different, says Lang. "You shouldn't try to fix them. This is something that is way beyond your capacity."

That doesn't mean you can't help. Experts agree that you can play an important role in the treatment of your friend or family member because you might notice things that a person in the grip of mental illness doesn't see or actively denies. This can be especially important for people who are not in treatment. Let's say your college roommate doesn't get out of bed, or you think he might be suicidal, and you're at a loss for what to do. Lang says you should tell him your concerns, but don't take responsibility for him. You can also enlist a parent or relative to help you.

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