Aviv Jadovich, 53, is all too familiar with the challenges of living with a mental illness.
“I’m bipolar and have been in treatment many times over the years,” Jadovich said.
His mental illness has caused him to spiral out of control and become hospitalized. It was during one of those hospitalizations that he learned about support groups offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Greater Milwaukee chapter.
For the past three years, Jadovich has served as a volunteer for the group, also known as NAMI, answering phones and guiding callers to support groups or treatment and crisis services. He also has worked as a peer-to-peer mentor for others who suffer from mental illness.
“I do it because I want others to know that they’re not alone,” he said.
Holidays create challenges
That message is especially crucial around the holidays, he said, as NAMI and other organizations that provide mental health services experience an uptick in calls for help.
Although the holiday season can be a time of cheer and celebration, it also can be challenging for those who battle a mental illness, said Tony Thrasher, medical director for crisis services at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Department.
Although he said each case is different, several factors can increase the odds of a mental health crisis during this time of year. Some are environmental, such as less sunlight in the winter. In addition, spending more time with families and consuming more alcohol and drugs can create further challenges.
“For a lot of patients, substance use does not go well with medications or therapies,” Thrasher said.
And many people are just lonely, Jadovich said.
“A lot of them had families, they have memories, and this is a time of recollection,” he said. “They feel a bit like outcasts during the holiday season.”
Often the stigma associated with living with mental illness deters people from seeking treatment, said Mary Madden, executive director of NAMI Greater Milwaukee and NAMI of Waukesha County.
“When it comes to mental health conditions, the reluctance to seek treatment can mean that people miss the opportunity for early intervention,” Madden said. “Early intervention gives the best prognosis for recovery, and there should be no shame in seeking care.”
Another challenge in seeking care is that many who suffer from mental illness may not recognize it, said Lauren Hubbard, a registered nurse and director of community crisis services at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Department. Hubbard said warning signs can include spending time isolated, spontaneous violence and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
There are a number of free mental health services available, she said, all of which can be accessed by calling the county’s 24-hour crisis line at (414) 257-7222. Among the services the county provides are support from certified peer specialists who have experienced with mental illness; respite homes for people who need to get away from their families; in-patient and community-based care; and immediate help for those considering suicide.
Hubbard said the county treats everyone regardless of a person’s ability to pay.
NAMI also provides a number of services, including peer support groups; classes for families of loved ones who suffer from mental illness; and crisis response training for first responders. It helps anyone in need connect to other services, including those offered by the county.
The most important thing, said Trasher, is for people to know they are not alone and that they can get help.
“We don’t want someone who is having the most difficult days of their life to feel alone. We will direct you to the right place,” he said.
For Jadovich, finding the right combination of medications and therapies and recovering from mental illness have been a long and slow process. But it’s a journey he will continue to urge others to take.
“Recovery is possible, which I know, because I experienced it myself,” Jadovich said. “Don’t give up.”
Here are some tips to reduce stress during the holiday season and also to support others.
1. Be aware that holidays can be stressful
2. Recognize what stresses you the most and pay attention to such triggers
3. Be patient with yourself; everyone has their own way to process stress
4. Exercise has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety as our brain releases dopamine (“feel-good” hormone).
5. Become involved in community services or thoughtful prayer
6. Reach out to the important people in your life and share how you’ve been feeling while providing support for them at the same time.
7. Control alcohol and using drugs, as they are not the permanent solutions for healing
8. Take the time to sit down and listen to others
Tips provided by Adisa Haznadar, the counselor and outreach coordinator at Marquette University Counseling Center; Tony Thrasher, medical director for crisis services at Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Department; and Aviv Jadovich, volunteer at National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Milwaukee chapter.
Where you can find help
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