A psychiatric illness in MY family?


Too often, families coping with a psychiatric disorder in a close relative, neglect their own health. I know that we were so emotionally involved, that we failed to realize what a tremendous strain we were under. This blog is based on ideas from families I met in various support groups.

When someone in the family comes down with any serious disorder, relatives go through the various stages outlined here. Disbelief and denial are usually the first to appear, followed shortly by blame and anger.

And, when someone comes down with a brain disorder, feelings and emotions are not very different. What may be different is the long time it takes to recognize mental illness and the need to ask for treatment. I blamed everyone and was angry a lot of the time. Because my husband and I were in denial that OUR son could possibly be suffering from a mental illness, it made things difficult for the other members of our family and good friends to broach the subject even.

Most families look about for a scapegoat. And a common one is their psychiatrist or even the patient himself can come in for a part of the blame. I know that the sooner I realized that my only enemy was the brain disorder itself, the sooner I could begin to cooperate with the other members of my family and work toward our son’s recovery.

Then of course, there is the feeling of shame. To come to terms with these feelings, I was told that I had to assess how I’d felt about mental illness before it happened in my family. If my attitude had been one of compassion, then I should not have had problems with shame, but I did at first. I was also told that if a person had viewed mental illness with fear, feelings of shame are difficult to overcome. But I remember that thirty years ago people were ashamed if a relative developed cancer. It was spoken about in whispers because it frightened people. Today, that is no longer the case. I believe that through education, understanding and better medical knowledge, society has to come to terms with mental illness

It is not a good idea to make up false excuses or tell white lies to explain a relative’s behavior as it will only compound the problem. It is a good idea to confide in close friends who will then be able to lend positive support.

Whenever anyone gets any illness, family members wonder how the illness developed. The difference with mental illness is that society has, for a long time, erroneously believed that it had to do with family life or events in one’s past. This makes the family wonder in which mysterious way they could possible be responsible for this illness.

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