Psychological disorders and familial backing

We have come a long way, yet the humbling fact remains that there is still so much grey area surrounding mental disorders along with ambiguity regarding causes, diagnosis and treatment.

By Samineh I. Shaheem

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Published: Sun 21 Nov 2010, 12:18 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:04 PM

However during the last few decades, scientific exploration in the area of human behaviour has progressed incredibly, allowing us greater insight into the sometimes abstract and difficult to measure dimensions of mental and behavioral functioning.

We now know that a significant part of our personality is shaped during the prenatal development period, that gender development is very much dependant on cultural variables, that the connectivity between the brain and the body is vitally inseparable, that we have many different types of intelligence, subliminal messages can’t make us do just about anything and that we can actually control our dreams! These fascinating findings along with hundreds of other conclusions drawn about human behaviour have contributed greatly to a more comprehensive understanding of our mental processes

After years of cross cultural investigation and research, one of the more recent assumptions has been in relation to how familial support can help those who suffer from psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, recover more rapidly than those who don’t have this kind of assistance.

The level of familial involvement and support varies significantly in different countries. Even though the more collectivist cultures, such as the UAE or Japan, have a more traditional and reserved view about psychological ailments, it is more likely that family members, both immediate and extended, will be involved in the patient’s condition to a greater degree.

In contradiction, the more individualistic cultures such as the US or the UK, where people are more accepting and knowledgeable regarding psychological issues, are more part of independent or nuclear type families therefore may lack the much needed support, from the onset of the disorder.

What is common throughout the world is that during the early stages of a mental health condition, both the person affected as well as those around them go through a very difficult experience of accepting and rejecting the situation. Sufferers may distance themselves from family members and friends because they feel embarrassed and confused, unable to identify with or make sense of the new physical and psychological symptoms. At the same time, friends and family members may feel uncertain about how appropriate it may be to get involved, ask questions or address the health issue of someone who hasn’t asked for assistance as well as being worried about incorrectly assuming there is an illness.

Some of the first signs which may be noticed by family members, leading to further inquiry might include:

υ Crying spells at inappropriate sporadic times

υ Significant changes in appetite

υ Easily agitated or angered

υ Overly defensive

υ Resentful and bitter

υ Restlessness and inability to concentrate

υ Addiction to certain substances

υ Withdrawal and isolation from family and friends

υ Sensitive to any comments and easily hurt

υ Lacking enthusiasm about life and the future in general

υ Hyper vigilant

This difficult period shrouded with skepticism and vagueness is usually a temporary fracture between family members, often improving once the person has agreed to seek medical help. Unfortunately those affected may not always easily agree to see a doctor and those around them insisting may actually do more harm by pushing the troubled person away.

Nevertheless, once denial and fear is set aside, positive familial interaction may even go as far as helping to reduce symptoms such as anxiety attacks, delusional moments, reoccurrences, and the anxiety the patient experiences about having to care for themselves. Another important role family members have is to monitor the patients’ medication intake and to quickly report any serious side effects noticed.

At times, those family members caring for the patient and fully involved, often begin showing signs of deterioration of their health and quality of life. These negative changes need to be recognised and managed immediately since the health of another family member suffering only adds to the stress and guilt of the patient, hindering their recovery process. After all, we can’t take care of anyone else if we are not well.

Consequently, availability of genuine, suitable and caring familial support provides a much needed emotional defense to an individual suffering from a serious mental illness. When this support is not given, sufferers seem to experience much sharper and more frequent symptoms as well as facing prolonged discomfort.

· Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross cultural consultant at HRI. She appears on numerous radio programs and conferences and has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. Please forward your thoughts to

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