Mental Health Advice for Young Adults 20-40

This story originally appeared in our special issue Lifelong New Hampshire 2020. See the entire issue here.

The most significant thing any individual or family member can do in the early stages of a mental health crisis is to get educated. During the first two decades of adult life, this proves especially true. Age of onset does vary by gender, although not significantly, when it comes to serious mental illness like a schizophrenia spectrum disorder or a mood disorder. The early 20s for males and the late 20s to early 30s for women is the most likely timeframe for a first episode. How exactly that first episode presents can vary significantly depending on the type of illness: psychotic, depressive or manic.

There are some fairly common symptoms that are universal in their presentation. One of the most troubling is called agnosognosia. It is characterized by a lack of insight. These individuals don’t understand or believe they have an illness or that there is anything whatsoever wrong with their functioning. This goes beyond classic denial and can lead parents or other relatives to think their loved one is simply being stubborn or difficult. Appropriate treatment during and immediately following a first episode psychosis has been shown to improve overall prognosis. As you can imagine, this symptom also proves problematic for treatment. Why get treatment if there is nothing wrong, right?

Family members are left in the difficult position of understanding how critical treatment is to the success of their loved one while having little ability to ensure treatment is adhered to. While many consumers in this age group continue living with parents or other family members, healthcare providers are bound by HIPAA and unable to communicate with these familial caregivers without specific authorization by the ill relative. This leaves many loved ones in the dark with regard to how best to support their ill relative’s recovery.

Family education programs like NAMI’s Family-to-Family or Family Support Groups play a critical role by filling in this gap. Those recovering from a mental health crisis or episode need time to recover — not unlike recovery from a broken leg or surgery. Without guidance, family members might feel the need to push their relatives to go back to school, get out of the house or take on a new job before they are truly ready.

If family members are lucky enough to be apprised of their relative’s diagnosis and treatment plan, then self-directed research can be a lifesaver. Learn as much as you can about the specific diagnosis, medications, possible complications, etc. When you are invited into the treatment conversation, you will have enough base knowledge to understand what is being discussed and know what questions to ask. Do your best to treat mental health staff with kindness and respect. It is absolutely OK to challenge your loved one’s caregivers, however, if you want to be the most effective advocate for them then challenge with humility.

Categories: Health & Wellness