Let's take a trip down Thinker's Lane for a moment. The plight of the Support Person for those family members and loved ones who have been told they have a debilitating physical illness or mental illness concerns me. Have you ever noticed that you can go into any bookstore or library and find several books on just about any condition known to man and learn about said condition, but should you attempt to search for material applying directly to supporters of these maladies, the products are thin on the ground at best?
Supporters need support. Where's a good support group for supporters when you need one? From my observations, most supporters of people who have become disabled by some physical illness do not have a choice whether they become a supporter. If the disabled one isÂ your son or daughter, your spouse, parent, or close relative, you are their supporter. 'Nuff said. You are to deal with it, because you are part of the family and its your lot in life. So it seems. I've known several who have been unwillingly thrust into the position of supporter. It adds layers of complications to their already hectic life.
Something similar happens when a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, especially if that diagnosis includes a physicalÂ problem or manifestationÂ as well. Their spouse, son or daughter, brother or sister, parent, close relative or close friend needs a supporter and you are it. Family members don't often have a choice.
I have noticed a subtle difference between the two types of support groups, however. Generally speaking, the supporters of the physically handicapped are themselves supported better than the second group by their communities, church groups, and even family members. It seems that the supporter in the second group may either not get support for their role or may even have difficulty being identified as a supporter. Some even have troubleÂ identifying themselves as a supporter of a person with a disability. It seems to be a matter of believability.
In another article that I wrote (A Real Live Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)I have already mentioned that many people may not believe you when you assert that you have a viable mental illness. Your credibility is questioned. It is even worse when the designated supporters themselves may not Â recognizeÂ your needÂ for support. Or they may not take their role of supporter seriously enough to be helpful. What to do then?
It may seem unthinkable, but one of the first steps in solving this dilemma is for the person diagnosed with a mental illness to choose for himself or herself a supporter from those they can trust. Then the sufferer may have to go one step further and start educating their support person.
In my imagination, I dream of a future where every type of illness is treated seriously, with dignity and respect. Wouldn't it be wonderful if upon receipt of a diagnosisÂ we would beÂ immediately assigned a group of knowledgeable, upbeat, proactive supporters? Perhaps one supporter could oversee the medication regime. Are you taking your meds regularly and filling prescriptions? Another could take charge of doctor's appointments and therapy sessions. Don't be late! A third person could keep you updated on the latest medical and scientific research and developments of treatments. They could offer you hope. I'd love to have a fourth person just responsible for educating everyone I know and deal with regularly about the illness itself and its practical implications. They could even warn those unsuspecting co-workers when a shift in mood is predicted or imminent.
Alas, it's not to be. We will have to be patient with the current inefficient system until something better is developed. In the meantime, let's look around us and find those supporters in need of some support. They need affirmation, some encouragement, some relief once in awhile, a smile, a hug, recognition that their job is a tough one and that they are doing a great job. They need understanding and friendship. They need to be believed in and encouraged to hang in there, that they are doing something worthwhile.
What are you doing to support the supporters?