Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Danger of Isolation

Isolation should be a concern for a companion, family member or caregiver when a loved one is depressed over an extended period of time. As a loved one becomes increasingly depressed, activity usually lessens and there is a tendency to withdraw from the company of others. He or she may be caught up in pessimistic thoughts about themselves causing crumbling self-esteem. All interest in pleasurable activities slips away as our loved one’s loss of energy causes them not to want to leave the house. They may even have trouble getting out of bed.

Untreated or inadequately treated depression can lead to serious health challenges, further troublesome consequences and potential risks many companions can’t bring themselves to think about. But such risks are all too real, and we need to recognize isolation for the insidious trap it often becomes. Some doctors describe this situation as a race against time.

This is a major challenge for those of us supporting someone with a brain illness. Our loved one isn’t capable of recognizing just how ill they are, much less how dangerous isolation can be. If he or she were suffering from untreated diabetes or cancer, we might be able to persuade them that they either begin treatment for their disease or they’re going to die. The ability to see consequences of behavior may be readily pointed out to someone who eats sugar or smokes cigarettes and we can at least hope for, and possibly expect, behavioral changes. But someone with a brain illness doesn’t recognize the danger, so they don’t do anything about it.

Treatment for a brain illness often must come involuntarily, an uncomfortable process. The bottom line is this: there has to be treatment if our loved one is to survive. If treatment is delayed then our loved one is in an ever present and always increasing danger. Any companion, family member or care provider:

  • Who does not recognize, acknowledge and take positive action to help a loved one in untreated depressive isolation, is themselves in denial of reality and facing a terrible and possibly irreparable outcome;
  • Who takes action to help their loved one to trust their support team and do the hard work of acceptance, treatment and recovery can not only expect their loved one to survive but to thrive for having successfully done the work.

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