Mental health issues affect entire families. Different family members have different needs and different opinions about how to address mental stability. MH Mediate Founder Dan Berstein learned a lot about the nuances of family mental health conflicts by working with his own family, studying mental health, and developing mediation programs and trainings geared toward families with mental health issues.
Mediation can help families reach agreements regarding any kind of conflict.
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We also offer original mental health communication and conflict resolution trainings to groups of family members affected by mental health issues.
How My Family Could Have Used Mediation During My Bipolar Disorder
by Dan Berstein, Founder of MH Mediate
During my first bipolar episode, my parents and I did our best to stay connected. Throughout my mania we had struggled to communicate. I was hard to reach, buried beneath distress and psychosis. But my parents kept trying to get through to me and hear me. I felt so loved as they worked with me, listening patiently through a stream of intensely fragmented thoughts. For my part, I remember one moment when I tried to condense my immense thoughts into manageable pictures for my father. “Passion, Puzzle, Pal” I said. “P! P! P!” I cried. I kept trying to make it simpler so he could understand.
Ultimately, we couldn’t get through to each other. I felt more isolated, and I became sicker. Everything changed after the psych ward and diagnosis. My loved ones began dismissing my earnest voice as symptomatic of a disease. It became hard to talk with them and get feedback because I did not feel respected as a person making his own choices. As much as I desperately wished to get their input on my life decisions, I was afraid to tell them my vulnerabilities. What if, instead of supporting me, my parents made me more nervous? What if, when I confessed my fears, they saw those confessions as evidence of my sickness instead of opportunities to reassure me and help me feel stronger?
My family felt the same way I did – eager to communicate but scared that their opening up would make things worse. Although they wondered if they had behaved in ways that worsened my problems, they were reluctant to say so. What if I made them walk around on eggshells around me for the rest of their lives? As much as they wanted to talk with me, they also felt like they had missed signs of trouble before because they deferred to my perspective. Had their listening allowed me to escalate into illness? Might that happen again if they stopped staying vigilant for potential symptoms?
We were all reluctant to listen to one another. Over time, we became stuck inside our own separate perspectives. We grew apart and this distance disrupted our bonding activities that had nothing to do with mental illness. We had fewer meals together and stopped going to movies together. We drifted apart because of the communication impasse.
The disconnect we experienced inspired me to look for ways to appreciate different perspectives in mental health and help them interact. For the past decade, I have been on a quest to help people hear each other amidst the confusing landscape of mental illness. After spending many years immersing myself in various points of view, ranging from the medical model to alternatives, mainstream to radical, family member-focused to peer-focused, I realized they all have truth in them. Facilitating support groups of young people living with mental illness some nights, and their family members others, I saw great potential for them to have empowered discussions but I didn’t know how that could happen.
Then I found mediation. Mediation is a confidential process where a neutral person – a mediator – helps people in conflict have a difficult conversation. Mediators do not give advice or make decisions. They provide a loose structure for the conversation, they listen to everyone, and they reflect what they’ve heard. They help people hear one another and make their own decisions. Mediation is not the same as therapy because it is not treatment. Mediators do not have a therapeutic approach, and mediation is limited to a few sessions focused on specific agreements. Mediations empower everyone involved to express and balance their true perspectives, addressing all parties as equals.
I’ve spent the past several years developing a mediation model specifically targeted at helping loved ones navigate conflicts related to mental illness. I’ve delivered trainings to mediation centers in a dozen states, and I have started offering mediation services in New York City so families can reach agreements about communication plans, wellness plans, and sensitivity plans.
If you are interested in exploring mediation or trainings, e-mail email@example.com to learn more.