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Each year, an estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder. Sadly, most families are not prepared to cope with learning a relative has a mental illness. As Thanksgiving brings us together with our loved ones, we are presented with an excellent opportunity to offer support and share information about your own personal mental health history. Consider using this time to talk to relatives about these treatable illnesses.

Similar to other medical conditions like heart disease or certain cancers, mental illnesses often run in families. The more you know about your family’s mental health history, the better prepared you can be.

Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may exacerbate an underlying condition. According to researchers from the National Institutes of Health, five major mental disorders share some of the same genetic risk factors. Researchers discovered that people with disorders traditionally thought to be distinct – autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia – were more likely to have similar genetic variations. These variations often appear in families.

  • It is not always easy to talk about a loved one’s struggle with mental illness. MentalHealth.gov offers these suggestions to start the conversation:
  • I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?
  • Who or what has helped you deal with similar issues in the past?
  • Sometimes talking to someone who has dealt with a similar experience helps. Do you know of others who have experienced these types of problems who you can talk with?
  • It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?
  • How can I help you find more information about mental health problems?
  • I’m concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?

This Thanksgiving, make it a priority to connect with family members. Ask relatives about difficult times, symptoms they struggled with, and how they sought help. It is important to remember that mental illness is treatable and help is always available.

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