Mental Health Monday–Coping with Illness

Linda Gray asks the following question:

When a person has the possibility of inherited life-threatening disease hanging over her head, and the parent (mother) who may have passed it along to her has died from it, what type of person (character traits) can stand up to that situation with courage and the ability/determination to do whatever possible to live a full life, as opposed to living in dread of developing the disease and dying from it, too?

This is a FANTASTIC question!

Let me reference a particular illness that has physical and psychiatric complications and is heritable (passed down from generation to generation).

HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE is a neurodegenerative disorder with cognitive, psychiatric, and physical symptoms. It is autosomal dominant (which means 50% offspring inherit the disease). It’s particularly tragic because symptoms often develop AFTER childbearing years, so the disease can be unwittingly passed on to the next generation.

It can cause memory disturbance, dementia, psychosis, depression, irritability, and can/does affect muscular coordination. In fact, people develop what’s called “chorea,” which is an abnormal, involuntary, writhing movement of the limbs and torso. Progression can vary, but it often leads to such significant impairment that the person can’t care for themselves and need nursing home level of care.

Genetic testing is available if someone wants to find out if they have inherited the gene. Counseling and education is strongly advised (to help the person cope with the possibility of getting bad news).

This would be devastating news for anyone to hear and certainly a person’s personality makeup has a huge impact on how they handle it. Too many factors go into personality development to predict for certain, but upbringing (caring and nurturing vs cold and neglectful or abusive), experiences (witnessing a parent/loved one go through the disease process), genes (more information is learned daily about the heritability of mental illness and various temperments), and coping skills all play a roll.

Now, every human being on the planet has experienced adversity, suffering, etc. BUT, HOW WE COPE WITH IT CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Therefore, I’d posit that someone with strong coping skills (such as having good problem solving strategies) who is facing a potentially life-altering or life-threatening disease can have a “better” response to such news than someone with poor coping skills (such as having poor problem solving strategies).

Coping skills vary widely. Some people turn to obsessive thinking, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, yelling, breaking things, cutting, or suicide attempts/gestures. Others turn to talking with others, exercising, asking for help, building a support network, and relying on religion or another method of devloping inner peace (like meditation).

Now it’s your turn. What factors would help or hurt someone when dealing with devastating medical news?

Remember, these posts are for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and are not intended for medical advice or treatment.

Please don’t hesitate to ask a #MentalHealthMonday question if you need a character “shrink-wrapped.” 😉