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60% of mental health patients relapse without meds

By David Jo Bradley
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Stopping Mental Health Patients Relapsing
By: Tarryn AUDAS

Published: 26/09/2008

Local experts have questioned the results of a recent study by the Keeping Care Complete group, that suggested that 60 per cent of mental health patients in Australia relapse when they stop taking their medication. The study said that of this 60 per cent, 95 per cent try to self harm and inevitably end up in hospital.

Anthea Lowe communications officer for the Western Australian Association for Mental Health said: “The self harming percentage in this study is inflated because not all mental health patients attempt self harm, but if they do then hospitalisation is the only way to monitor them.”

Relapse in mental health patients has been narrowed down to two main causes, one being stress and the other is when patients stop taking their medication. Ms Lowe said the only way to help patients in trouble of relapsing was to encourage them to keep taking their medication, and teach them stress reduction techniques applicable to their situation.

The support of families and friends can often make or break the chances of success for mental health patients, according to the recent study. but Ms Lowe said that mental health carers were suffering through lack of funding, not enough staff and little knowledge of better treatment schemes in Australia.

Anne White founder of WA-based Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill (ARAFMI) developed these twelve coping skills for families who deal with mental health on a daily basis:

1. TAKE HEART: Chronic mental illness is not the end of the world!
There is hope. Medications do help to relieve the symptoms for many patients.

2. LET GO OF GUILT: It is nobody's fault, any more than cancer, diabetes, etc ... There's nothing you could or should have done differently, nothing you left undone that would have prevented the disorder's occurrence.

3. BECOME INFORMED: Knowing the enemy is half the battle. This way your expectations will be more realistic and consequently, there will be less disappointment for you and less sense of failure for the person with the illness.

4. REMAIN IN CONTROL: of your household and your life. Remember whose home it is and set consistent limits on what you will permit. Verbal and physical abuse is not tolerable no matter what the disability or circumstances.

5. ENJOY THE GOOD DAYS: Praise each small sign of normality and effort to take care of themselves. In real life there are no guarantees. Your worst fears may never be realized; there may be some happy surprises in store. ALL the planning in the world can't provide for the unpredictable.

6. ESTABLISH OR CONTINUE WITH AS MUCH INVOLVEMENT WITH NORMALITY AS POSSIBLE: Hobbies, study, a job, community commitment, fun activities, anything to prevent you becoming unhealthily preoccupied with the sad fact of mental illness in your family.

7. KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOUR: Laugh, not at your ill relative but at the ridiculous situations, which so often arise. Laughter relieves tension. Chronic tension, unrelieved, destroys your health.

8. LEARN TO RECOGNISE THE STRESS YOU CREATE FOR YOURSELF: e.g. agonizing over what might have been. Master the art of stress management, relaxation, meditation, prayer, pruning the roses, cuddling the dog, whatever works for you. Your health is in the hands of those whom you permit to disappoint or anger you.

9. LET GO OF YOUR ILL ADULT RELATIVE: Once you've found the most helpful doctor or therapist, leave them to stumble through their own mistakes. They are their own person, however disordered and have to learn his own coping strategies, manage their own medication, odd life-style, tottering relationships! Their mistakes will be painful and often expensive but unless we let them pick up the pieces, their dependency will tighten like a noose around our lives.

10. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES: We're all stronger than we think. We can pick ourselves up off the floor as many times as it takes. People with mental illness have unique qualities, rare strengths if we look hard enough. The roller-coaster course of mental illness, heart-breaking, confusing, exasperating as it often can be is supportable when we stay with the strength of the self helpers. Regular participation sustains confidence, courage and sound perspective.

11. REMEMBER SELF-CARE: and the equally valid needs of your healthy family members. Chronic mental illness can impose an enormous strain on these other relationships.

12. REACH OUT: to caring friends and the community. Accept that some will find it impossible to understand or respond helpfully but that the onus is on you and me to further the task of public education. Many folks will be supportive provided we show them how.

She said: “If you follow the twelve steps and remember to live your life the best you can, you will get through the hurdles and improve the quality of life of mentally ill patients.”

Mental health week 2008 is October 5-11. For more information and help visit: ARAFMI or WAAMH.