Struggling With Mental Illness That Runs in the Family

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Reader’s Question

I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past month or so for anxiety and depression and am taking Seroquel and lithium and may possibly take an antidepressant in the future. My family has a history of Bipolar Disorder. My grandfather was institutionalized for it, and my brother and sister have both been diagnosed. My father has cyclothymic disorder, and my mother used to have panic attacks.

I often feel as if people don’t want me around. I avoid unnecessary socializing, especially when it involves dealing with anybody new. I’ve noticed that when I’m in therapy and the therapist asks too many questions, my mind sort of locks up with fear, and all I can say is “I don’t know.” I have had strange experiences before, such as having periods of hours where I feel a profound doubt that anything is real. I’ve also had times when I become hypnotized by other people’s voices and times when I hear everything as in the same rhythm. I’ve also had strange episodes where I’ll sort of go into a trance during class. I have unwanted images that pop into my mind, like a disfigured face. I’m feeling like my parents are trying to force me to be more social in an attempt to make me normal.

Just wondering if you can give any insight or provide any suggestions for me.

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: It would be nice if all mental illnesses could be neatly placed in definitive, tidy categories with specific, effective treatments. But, alas, that’s not always the case. Further, there is a continuum of sorts with respect to individuals who suffer from symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and various other disturbances that affect thought processes and mood. That’s why it’s so critical to get expert, comprehensive care. And sometimes, finding the right medicines and/or combinations of medicines can be fairly tricky, involving some trial and error. Adjunctive therapy that targets both the psychological effects of having to struggle with such illnesses as well as some of the personality variables that sometimes accompany the illnesses is also important.

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The good news is that with comprehensive evaluation and expert care, folks with all types of mental illnesses can learn to lead happy and productive lives. So, the best suggestion I can possibly offer is for you to stay invested in your care (it’s not uncommon for persons in your position to engage in unwitting self-sabotage by not adhering to their treatment regimen) and to keep your doctor and therapist informed about matters of concern so that your treatment can be optimized.

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