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Most families with a member or members who suffer from mental illness believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else” or occurs in “other types of families”. Much to the surprise of many mental disorders are pretty common and widespread.

In the United States alone an estimated 54 million people will suffer from or be diagnosed with some form of mental disorder in a given year. As a result of lack of information surrounding mental illness and disorders many individuals and families are not prepared to recognize the signs of illness, the impact on individual and familial life, treatment needed, and potential hazards of failing to receive proper treatment. Mental illness can have a negatively profound effect on the emotional, physical, and psychological health on both the sufferer and those that love them. Feelings of guilt, embarrassment, shame, and sadness can create vulnerability to our perceptions on how the mentally ill member or the family is judged and viewed by others.

Mental illness is a defined as a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought, mood, and behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life”s everyday challenges, demands, and routines.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V, DSM 5 There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of which are more common disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal. Often many illnesses can share several characteristics making it difficult to narrow the diagnosis and pinpoint the disorder (it is for this reason some patients receive a different or conflicting diagnosis from different doctors).

Another reason a person may be diagnosed incorrectly surrounds premature diagnosis, for example a patient suffering from bipolar disorder struggles with managing his or her moods, fluctuating between depression and mania. If a treating physician does not take the appropriate amount of time and observation the patient may be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or a manic disorder without being correctly diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. To illustrate how important receiving proper diagnosis and treatment I will cover the story of Bella and Frank.

Bella has been residing in America for 3 years, she arrived on a student visa but failed to return before it had expired. Her visa had expired more than 2 ½ years ago and she wanted to remain in American for what she called “better opportunities”. Bella met Frank almost 2 years ago, became immediately taken by him, and had a child with him. Frank presented to Bella all the things she was looking for in a relationship and a man, i.e., he was a little older, had a career (he was a beautician), loving, compassionate, smart, etc.

Over time Bella began to rely on Frank more and more, out of both desire and necessity. However, as time progressed she noticed an “odd” change in Frank”s behavior. He began having ongoing fights with the landlord, accusing him of slipping inside the couples” apartment while he was at work or Bella went to the store to poison their food. He was no longer able to sustain a job, drifting from salon to salon, he had insisted the couple keep the lights out in their apartment because they were being “watched at all times”, they were not to eat ready prepared food (fast food, or packaged food) only canned items, he also insisted upon cutting the lawn at night, riding a lawnmower with a flash light taped to his head.

Frank”s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic and aggressive. Frank visited a doctor after getting into an altercation with another stylist, accusing her of putting poison in his hair spray. Frank was terminated following the altercation and encouraged to seek assistance from a therapist. At the time of his appointment Frank displayed anxious and depressive symptoms surrounding the loss of his job, he never disclosed his thoughts on being spied upon, poisoned, or sleep disturbances. Frank was given an erroneous diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder.