Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Cost of Mental Health: More Than Money

Sunday September 2nd is Fathers Day here in Australia and, as normal for me around special occasions, it has had me thinking about what my mental health problems have cost me over the years. Not in terms of money, but in other ways. My conclusion: it has cost me plenty.

Dealing with mental health costs everyone financially; sufferers, families, friends & the entire community. But for those dealing with the illnesses it usually costs far more in the way of family, friends & living standards. So much of our lives can be affected both directly & indirectly by the illness and its treatments - and the stigma that surrounds it.

Left untreated, mental illness can make life hell for everyone around the sufferer. Even when you get a diagnosis it can be just as hard. A lot of times it's hard to get a correct diagnosis and then it is usually a lot of trial & error to find a treatment plan that works or helps the patient. It can take years to get things anywhere near right.

It took me over 10 years to go from an initial diagnosis of depression & anxiety to my current (and apparently correct) diagnosis of bipolar disorder and several other less severe disorders. The last 18 months have seen me improve substantially and my standard of life has also improved greatly.

The period from when things initially started to really go downhill until my current treatment started to work on settling things down has cost me both financially & emotionally. And the emotional cost can never be counted in dollars.

I look back now and see what a horror time it was for me, my family, friends and colleagues. It cost me a lot of respect from others & myself. I couldn't hold jobs for extended periods despite initially seeming to be doing well. I drank too much, stayed out too much and just did things I can now see that I should never have even thought of doing.

I made life hell for those around me. I ended with very few friends - even now I have no friends from more than a couple of years ago. For my wife & kids it must have been like living on a razors edge, never knowing when I was going to swing from a good mood to one that I think made them hate me at times. In the end it was too much and everything broke down. I've lost them totally, at least for the time being. I hope & prey that someday soon they might forgive me for my past so we can take some steps towards rebuilding some form of sustainable relationship. It is a thought that does help sustain me.

How do you put a cost on these types of things? You just can't. Hopelessness, despair, broken families & shattered lives. The illness of a single person has such wide ranging affects. If I was anything near like I am now, if I was correctly diagnosed and treated many years earlier, I wonder how different my life would have been.

But it didn't happen that way, I lived the life I lived and nothing can change that. All I can do now is reflect on what happened and find ways to deal with the emotions it brings out in me now. I'm one of the lucky ones I think - I managed to go on living, now have my diagnosis & a treatment plan that seems to help. Because of the changes this has made in me, I now have the help & support of my wider family, friends and others who are now close to me.

I think my older brother summed it up well when he told me he could see the difference in me & was glad for it. When I was bad he stopped visiting me and hell, I wasn't going out and visiting others. He told me this was because they just didn't know how to deal with me, I just never seemed to be in the present. I'm glad he thinks I've changed that much, it's a great sign.

So what other non-financial costs have you seen associated with mental health issues? It saddens me thinking of those who have lost people close to them who just couldn't go on with dealing with the problems of mental illness. I guess those around me are lucky, I'm still here and fighting. But the loss of life because of mental illness is the greatest price of all to pay.

Take care all.

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

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